8

Should I use article "a" in this sentence?

Has anyone sent documents by post

or

Has anyone sent documents by a post?

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  • 6
    "By post" sounds strange (maybe British) to me. In my dialect (US Midwest), I'd say "Has anyone mailed the documents?" or "Has anyone sent the documents by mail?" Mar 15 at 20:02
  • 5
    @WaterMolecule: To me (US, New England) it sounds a bit old-fashioned but not unintelligible. Mar 15 at 20:47
  • 20
    @WaterMolecule "by post" is indeed perfectly normal in British English.
    – rjpond
    Mar 15 at 22:04
  • 2
    Yeah, "sent by a post" suggests that it was posted on Facebook or some such.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 16 at 0:43
  • 8
    "Has anyone sent documents by a post" to me sounds like you're asking if anyone has sent documents adjacent to a large wooden pole :)
    – Muzer
    Mar 16 at 10:42
28

"Post" in this sense is an uncountable or mass noun (as noted by Longman), so you'd always say "by post" (or "in the post", "via post" or "by mail"), never "by a post".

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  • 1
    I'm not sure that you could really call it uncountable in a strict sense, because there's only one postal system.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 15 at 19:21
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    Countabililty, as it is being used here, is a grammatical property of words, not a description of entities in the phenomenal world. I've noticed before that pedants seem to have a remarkable inability to cope with polysemy.
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 15 at 20:38
  • 3
    I don't get it. There are multiple postal services available. "Postal service" is countable.
    – Basilevs
    Mar 15 at 21:25
  • 8
    @Basilevs I don't think "post" and "postal service" are exact synonyms. Also, many countries have only one postal service in the true sense (offering delivery of letters to any address). But when discussing those with more than one, I don't think I would ever say "this country has several posts to choose from". However, even if one did decide, inventively, to use "post" as a countable noun in that way, deliveries would still be "by post". It's a mechanism, a means. The other answer rightly drew our attention to the parallel with "by rail".
    – rjpond
    Mar 15 at 22:03
  • 2
    @KamiKaze Lexico defines "postal service" as "US: post office (sense 1)", which in turn is defined as "The public department or corporation responsible for postal services and (in some countries) telecommunications". Meanwhile, Brits tend to describe DHL, Hermes etc as parcel delivery services or courier services rather than postal services. But regardless, these are separate points - they don't change the answer to the OP's question.
    – rjpond
    Mar 16 at 13:59
19

No, by here shows the method in use, how the action of sending documents is done - by post. It's an uncountable noun which refers to the public system for collecting and delivering of letters, so a post is never the case.

Similarly, you can travel by train/car, you can pay by cheque, you can carry/ship goods by sea/air, you can read by candlelight.


We use by + zero article to talk about means of transport and communication, including

  • go/travel by car/taxi/bus/plane/train/air/sea
  • communicate/contact by phone/post/mail/email

Compare:

  • I generally go by bus to work.
  • I generally take the bus to work.

Source: Advanced Grammar in Use Third Edition by M Hewings

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  • 2
    I agree. Just like you'd say "by email" and you would not imply one of the many providers. Mar 17 at 11:10
9

It is normal to say "by post" in British English (or "by mail" in American English).

You would never use an indefinite article with "post" in this context, since there is only one post ("a post" would therefore be a fence-post or similar). However, it can be correct to use a definite article, as in "through the post".

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