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Please explain next example:

My neighbour is a photographer; let's ask him for (!) advice about colour films.

We had (!) fish and (!) chips for (!) lunch. That doesn't sound a very interesting lunch.

We'd better go by (!) taxi—if we can get (a) taxi at such (an) hour as 2 a.m.

Why do we not use articles where I put an "(!)"? What rules apply in these cases?

  • In that context, you wouldn't say an advice, although you could say some advice. Also, if you were happy with the tips your neighbor gave you, you could say, "Thanks for the advice." Wow, it gets complicated when you think about it! – J.R. Jun 2 '14 at 19:25
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Advice is uncountable and thus it won't take an article. If you still want one, you will have to quantify it --a piece of advice.

a fish and chips is correct but Fish and chips is a general meal thus doesn't require article. Oxforddictionaries describes it as a mass noun. And lastly, for lunch is a phrase to describe what you have for lunch.

Added: As said by Nico in the comment, Collins Dictionary talks about occasional use of advices (plural)

advices - formal notification of facts, esp when communicated from a distance

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    Why do they use advices here? – Lucian Sava Jun 2 '14 at 10:01
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    A fish and chips might be technically correct (if you parse it as "(a fish) and chips" not "a (fish and chips)") but it would sound very, very strange. You could say some fish and chips, note that you could also say I gave my friend some advice or I had some lunch. – user6535 Jun 2 '14 at 11:13
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    @jwg: I could see "a fish and chips" being used as a colloquial shorthand for "a serving of fish and chips", as in "Gimme a beer and a fish and chips." Indeed, that's what I initially assumed the answer was referring to; the parsing "(a fish) and chips" did not occur to me before reading your comment. – Ilmari Karonen Jun 2 '14 at 13:27
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    @jwg "A fish and some chips" would be a more natural way of saying "(a fish) and chips"; Ilmari Karonen's interpretation makes good sense and, as a native speaker, I can imagine people saying that. (An alternative would be "a beer and a fish supper".) – David Richerby Jun 2 '14 at 15:46
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"Advice" is an uncountable noun and so does not call for an article.

"Fish" and "chips" are plural and so do not require articles. "I saw a dog in the yard" -- dog is singular, so an article is required. "I saw dogs in the yard" -- dogs is plural, so no article is required.

In any case, food items can often be used as uncountable nouns. "I had a hamburger for lunch." Hamburger is singular, I had one, so I use an article. "I had hamburgers for lunch." Hamburgers is plural, I had more than one, no article needed. But you can also say, "I had hamburger for lunch", using hamburger as an uncountable noun.

  • "Fish" is also a singular and, in Britain, "fish and chips" usually consists of a single piece of battered fish and a portion of chips. I dispute "I had hamburger for lunch", though you could eat a curry and say "I had curry for lunch". – David Richerby Jun 2 '14 at 15:48
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    When used as a mass noun, hamburger refers to the meat, not the sandwich. Pizza might be a better example. – choster Jun 2 '14 at 19:18
  • @DavidRicherby - What choster said. Sometimes the word hamburger can be used to refer to ground beef (at least in the U.S.). – J.R. Jun 2 '14 at 19:21
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    @David - Pretty much, yes, although people rarely eat unadorned ground beef by itself, so I'd expect you might be more likely to hear something like, "I had hamburger and rice for lunch," or, "I had hamburger casserole for lunch." – J.R. Jun 2 '14 at 20:56
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    @David - You'd be more likely to hear "hamburger" used to refer to the meat (instead of the sandwich) in the context of cooking, as in: "The first step in this recipe is to brown a pound of hamburger." – J.R. Jun 3 '14 at 7:05
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We'd better go by (!) taxi—if we can get (a) taxi at such (an) hour as 2 a.m.

Why no article here? That's just the way the preposition works.

by (prep.) using a particular method of transportation
by car/train/bus/air etc.: Sophie's parents arrived by taxi.

If you use the verb take (or catch) instead, however, the article would be included:

We'd better take a taxi—if we can get (a) taxi at such (an) hour as 2 a.m.

So, I might say:

I'm taking a bus on Wednesday, but coming back by plane on Sunday.

or:

I going by bus on Wednesday, but taking a plane home on Sunday.

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