Is it right to say so without the article (like the first example), implying that he is engaged in his business?

If not, in what situations can not use the article, as in the first example?

He is on stage (giving a concert)

He is in t̶h̶e̶ toilet (or smth like that)

  • 1
    This is a complicated subject. All are actually correct grammar: on a stage, on the stage and on stage. However, for the toilet, it's "the" when used like that (not: we have a toilet in our house). – Lambie Feb 24 '19 at 18:44
  • on stage and on set and their antonyms offstage and offset are sometimes written as single-word forms (not so often with the latter, because it has another common meaning). This is because they're domain-specific usages particularly relevant to theatre / film-making, so the shortened forms have gradually gained traction. But someone being in/on the toilet, the garden, the house, or whatever isn't really the same - those are much more about where the person is, not their (context-related) "state". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 24 '19 at 19:36

There are almost certainly exceptions to this, but here's what I think is a good rule-of-thumb:

If someone is on an actually physical surface/object, and is a countable noun, then you need the article. If it is a figurative use or set phrase, such as "on stage", "on ice", "on hold" etc, then there is generally no article.

So, if you go into a theatre looking for someone, and they are in the theatre setting something up on the stage, you might be told "they're on the stage". If you go in looking for someone and they're in the middle of a performance, then you might be told "they're on stage". This is complicated by the fact that theatre has lots of specialised language, and also uses "on the stage" for specialised figurative purposes as well, but we needn't get into that now.

If a project has been suspended, it might be "on ice" or "on hold", while if you're crossing a frozen pond or river, you're "on the ice". At the same time, the sport of ice dancing takes place "on ice" even though ice refers to the literal substance, because it is being used as a mass noun. A skater currently performing will be "on the ice" because it is a specific bit of ice that they are on.

I'm not aware of a figurative usage for toilet in this way, nor that toilet is ever a mass noun, so someone either using a toilet or standing on a toilet is "on the toilet".

| improve this answer | |

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.