Many sentences have "the" in front of the "onset",

the onset of the winter, of the war, ... etc

but in the medical literature (an easy search from scholar.google.com), many sentences are stated as below

(1) In some countries, however, the time from onset of the condition to a diagnosis can be years - helen branswell, STAT, "A stubborn medical mystery: Was pandemic flu vaccine tied to an increase in narcolepsy cases?," 5 July 2018

(2) We report the youngest known molecularly identified patient suffering of severe desminopathy characterized by infantile onset of cardiac arrhythmia - G Piñol-Ripoll et al. 2009

Are these expressions (without an article) correct or incorrect ? Shouldn't they be

(1) ... the time from the/an onset of the condition ...

(2) ... characterized by the/an infantile onset of cardiac ...

  • 2
    Specialized fields often have quirks in their grammar. You see this in medical literature all the time.
    – John Feltz
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 14:37
  • It may not be a result of quirkiness. Many articles were written by non-native speakers, thus it is entirely possible that they are a result of incorrect grammar. A clarification by native English speakers will help non-native speakers learn the error.
    – B Chen
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 14:44

1 Answer 1


onset, like start or beginning, pretty much follows the same rules as dawn and evening.

We can use the noun with or without article, and especially in prepositional constructions the article is not present.

The disease is slow-moving and many patients are asymptomatic. From onset to diagnosis can be years.

From start to finish the piece lasts 2 minutes and 54 seconds.

You need to read it from beginning to end.

  • I thought those phrases are set phrases "from onset to diagnosis", "from start to finish", or "from dawn to dusk". In the context of "onset", "dawn" and "start" being used on its own, is "adding an article" still optional ??
    – B Chen
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 15:15
  • IMO (and I don't know if I'm in the minority here since I don't make my living from taking such positions and defending them) it is not the phrases themselves which are set but the structure of the temporal prepositional phrase which is set; it is that structure which permits the omission of the article. We can say from birth to puberty or from puberty to adulthood or from engagement to marriage lasts on average 14 months. Those are not "set phrases" and I would say that neither is from cradle to grave.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 15:29
  • Just as there is noun-as-role there is noun-as-stage.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 15:36
  • I'm not sure exactly what you (or anyone else) might mean by "set phrase", but I do think this NGram is both relevant and interesting. The article-less version from cradle to grave was relatively uncommon until a couple of decades ago. But it's actually slightly more common now than from the cradle to the grave. Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 16:12
  • books.google.com/…
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 16:18

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