Which sentence is correct:

He has a poorly controlled diabetes mellitus.

He has poorly controlled diabetes mellitus.

  • 3
    I'd never come across diabetes mellitus before, but apparently it's what nearly everyone just calls diabetes. And we always say he has diabetes with no article. On the other hand, we always include the article in he has a cold, but very rarely include it in he has cancer. Each different "disease" has its own particular position somewhere on the never to always scale, and I'm not sure there's any learnable rule for usages you don't yet know. Try searching Google Books when in doubt. – FumbleFingers Jan 11 at 18:05

The noun diabetes is uncountable, so I guess we should write

He has poorly controlled diabetes mellitus.

We only can use the indefinite article with countable singular nouns.

I found a couple of "has a poorly controlled diabetes" in Google Books, but instances of "has poorly controlled diabetes" were more numerous.

  • 2
    It follows the same pattern as "an impeccable English". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 11 at 18:11
  • A few older people still say He has the flu, but mostly that definite article usage has died out. Same with He has the measles. But I'd say it's about 50-50 with He has [an] earache. – FumbleFingers Jan 11 at 18:17
  • I have heard British (and British-trained) doctors use indefinite articles before names of conditions. They used to be criticised for referring to patients by their condition, e.g. "the myasthenia gravis in bed 6", but I hear they are training new ones not to do that. – Michael Harvey Jan 11 at 18:26
  • @FumbleFingers I've always heard and said the flu. It has nothing to do with the age of anybody. Honestly, I've never heard it said without the definite article. Possibly, this is a regional thing and I'm influenced by US English more than UK in this case. – Jason Bassford Jan 11 at 18:49
  • Using a definite article before a disease (the flu, the mumps, the measles) was widespread in Britain, especially among working class people, up to around 100 years ago, but has been declining since then. – Michael Harvey Jan 11 at 20:45

We usually do not use articles before diseases; the common reasoning is that diseases are not countable nouns. So we say: He has diabetes, pneumonia, arthritis, Crohn's disease, lung cancer, coronary heart disease, etc. (UNT Dallas, English Page).

There are few exceptions from this rule (it's about the usage, not grammar):

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