1

I have heard natives say both

student with physics background

and

student with a physics background

so I assume both expressions are grammatical.

Is there any difference in meaning?

  • 4
    I don't like the article-less version very much. I suggest you avoid it. To me, the only "meaning" it conveys is that the speaker/writer is sloppy and/or not well-educated (or simply "not a native speaker"). – FumbleFingers Jan 12 at 19:41
  • 3
    I agree that the article should always be used. I believe it's ungrammatical to leave it out (aside from in headlinese)—but I'm having difficulty forming a cogent argument. – Jason Bassford Jan 12 at 20:05
  • 2
    Are you sure you haven’t heard /seen “students with physics backgrounds”? The article gets omitted when the phrase is in the plural. – J.R. Jan 12 at 22:47
  • @J.R. That might be it! And in case it's in a resume: "John Doe, Engineer with [a?] physics background". Do we need the article there? – Leo Jan 13 at 9:26
  • 1
    @Leo - You wouldn’t need it there, either, because resumés don’t use full sentences – just informational “bullets”. – J.R. Jan 13 at 13:30
4

'Background' is a singular countable noun, so would usually need a word like 'a', 'the', 'my' or 'your'. So standard English definitely needs 'a student with a physics background'.

But there are some special contexts where articles and similar can be omitted, for example newspaper headlines and headings in articles etc (which are written sources). Imagine a university faculty committee decides to create a new part-time job for a laboratory assistant. They say 'We need a student with a physics background'. Then they write the advertisement, which starts 'New job available - laboratory assistant. Suit student with physics background'. You see the ad and you think 'I am a student with a physics background. I'll apply.'

Where have you heard native speakers saying 'student with physics background'?

  • How after reading your answer, it probably was not "I've heard" but rather "I've read". So what if we use it in writing as a subtitle for a resume: "John Doe, Engineer with [a?] physics background". Do we need the article there? – Leo Jan 12 at 22:36
  • Yes. Titles, subtitles, dot points, short list items are all examples of places where articles, pronouns, auxiliary verbs can be omitted. I looked at my own resume. It includes "Experience / Skills • teaching general English at a private language institute in South Korea". I might have omitted the 'a', but I didn't. The more like a complete sentence, the more we have to include the 'a'. Compare: "Experience / Skills - teaching • general English at private language institute in South Korea". – Sydney Jan 14 at 1:33

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.