Why don't the below sentences have articles:

  1. He is of Asian origin.
  2. They belonged to Africa.

What are they not:

  1. He is of an Asian origin.
  2. They belonged to the Africa.

I came across another similar sentence, which has article in it:

She is a European.

  • 1
    A European is a person from Europe. We don't use an article with names of countries or continents, so we would never refer to the Africa. Asian is an adjective describing origin, and the phrase doesn't need an article. – Kate Bunting Nov 26 '19 at 21:02
  • There is no reason. There is no reason for us to use any articles, at all, ever. Your best bet is to learn it all by heart. Just like every single native speaker has to. That is the only way. There are no shortcuts. There can't be. Because articles have no reason to exist in the first place. – ЯegDwight Nov 26 '19 at 21:45
  • Unless of course the geographical location takes an article, in which case you might say eg “They belong to The Hague”, or even “They come from the Ukraine”. But Africa, etc, do not take an article in the above cases. – user2474226 Nov 26 '19 at 22:18
  • I think that the sense of those statements makes an article inappropriate, regardless of whether the geographical word is replaced. For example I would say "he is of humble origins," not "of a humble origin," because nobody should respond to my words by asking "which humble origin?" That's not the meaning, that he's of any particular humble origin, but just that his origin is humble. – Chaim Nov 26 '19 at 23:14
  • (1) ' ...are of adj (eg Asian / African / ancient / recent) origin' are set phrases. //// (2) Arguably, there is an (invisible) article in 'They belonged to Africa', the null article (not the zero article ... 'We are having chicken tonight'). Even more prestigious than the definite article. 'She is the boss!' 'He is King!' // Compare/contrast 'They belonged to Africa ... an Africa vastly different from the Africa of today.' – Edwin Ashworth Nov 27 '19 at 13:09

This is an effort to summarize the comments thus far, with a bit of my own editorializing.

  1. Some of your examples can be explained by the relationship of articles to proper-noun geographic terms. We would never say something like “I traveled to the Africa” or “I am from the England,” because Africa and England are the names of places, and the names of places do not take articles except in a certain few examples, in which cases the articles are part of the name and cannot be omitted. In this latter category I’ve thought of the Bahamas, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Dominican Republic, the Hague, the Ivory Coast, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, the Netherlands, the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines, the Republic of Congo, the Solomon Islands, the Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States (of America), and the Virgin Islands (which are sometimes distinguished as the American or British Virgin Islands). Thus, they belong to Africa, not to “the” Africa. (Of course with common-noun geographical terms we use articles normally: a, an or the + continent, desert, forest, island, mainland, river, etc.)
  2. But many proper-noun place-names have related adjectives, and putting articles in front of these words can make them nouns after all. For example writing “27 November” instead of “November 27” is European, but Angela Merkel is a European = somebody from Europe. Merkel is also European, and we would have to rack our brains to think of a setting in which this distinction is important.
  3. There are many phrases on the “of Asian origins” model that follow the same “Of” + Adjective + Noun pattern without any article: He is of slight build, quiet demeanor, little importance, pleasant appearance, etc., all without an article. That usage is a “set phrase,” apparently meaning that we just do it that way. It seems to me that in these examples there is a vagueness about the statement that would make it inappropriate to ask, for example, “Which Asian origin is he of,” (or “Which slight build” etc.) The answer to those questions would be the silly, obvious fact: “Well he is of his Asian origins.” On the other hand we would use the article in this very same grammatical pattern where the question would make more sense. I am visiting the capital of an Asian country. Which one? Thailand. I am the founder of a successful business. Which one? Facebook. So it seems to me that the article missing from your example (He is of Asian origins) is an expression of this vagueness.

Your Answer

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