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I have two sentences with a noun Car

I am traveling by car

and

The car is travelling at full speed

In the first sentence, we don't use any article but in the second sentence, we use the article. why the first sentence doesn't need any article? what rule is applied here?

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  • Hello, Stephanie, and welcome to ELU! Of the rules that you know, is there one that might have something to say about this use? --Cheers! – Conrado Jul 21 '20 at 17:22
  • There is a site especially for English Language Learners which is where I think you should be. – David Jul 21 '20 at 17:54
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    Usages, not nouns, are count or non-count. So the noun coffee is usually used in a non-count usage ('Coffee is my favourite drink') but count in certain usages ('Three coffees, please' / 'So "robusta" and "arabica" are the two principal coffees planted'). But idioms like 'at full speed' arguably shouldn't be classed as using either usage. They often don't include articles (at school / in hospital / off course / on foot ...). Note that you use 'at full speed' (I've corrected this) and 'speed' is often count ('You should change gear at the following four speeds along the flat ....') – Edwin Ashworth Jul 21 '20 at 18:25
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    Or, You should change speed via the following four gears along the flat. – John Lawler Jul 21 '20 at 18:37
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As noted in comments, many nouns can be used as both count nouns and non-count nouns. Usually "car" is a count noun. When you mean "a wheeled automotive vehicle" it is "a car"

But when you mean "using a car as a means of transport" it is treated as uncountable. Compare this with "travel by road" (which means the same). Most forms of transport have an uncountable sense used with "by ..."

Note that if you say I travelled by car from New York to LA, it doesn't have to be in the same car all the way. In the case of car transport, you probably don't change car half way, but if you say "by bus", then it is quite likely that you didn't use just one bus, but instead used "the bus system", which explains why this sense is uncountable.

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