Do I need an indefinite article in the following sentence?

I wouldn't call it a healthful meal

And if I do, could I still drop it?

Will it sound terribly awkward if I drop it?

  • 10
    The article is necessary. Other than in special cases like newspaper headlines, you cannot drop articles in English. It's ungrammatical if you drop the "a".
    – gotube
    Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 6:23
  • 11
    In BrE at least, "a healthy meal" would be preferred. Separate question, though. Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 14:44
  • 1
    What @RogerLipscombe says is true nowadays. Prescriptivists will argue that "healthy" can only be applied to people, and "healthful" only to food, but no one says "healthful" at all anymore (similar situation to "naseous" and "nauseated"). AmE speaker here. Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 16:25
  • Oxford's Learner's Dictionaries says that it "healthful" is "formal or North American English" insinuating that it is a formal usage in Britain that North Americans may have hyper-corrected into regular use. Merriam-Webster doesn't make any remarks about it. All in all it seems like a fine word that is available in contemporary English dialects.
    – Kaz
    Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 18:21
  • 4
    I've never heard the word healthful in my life prior to this that I recall. I think most BrE speakers would find it jarring. It's understandable but I'd imagine most people would think you'd just invented a new word Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 21:03

2 Answers 2


You need an article to avoid ambiguity. Meal as a substance means ground-up grains (e.g. oatmeal).

  • But even if I meant substance would I still not need the indefinite article? (look, even in your answer you still used "a" before the word "substance")
    – brilliant
    Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 8:11
  • 5
    No, it isn't. A substance is one particular kind of material. Meal is a substance, a meal is an occasion when you eat a quantity of food. Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 9:29
  • 3
    "Meal" is ground-up food, not necessarily grain. Read the ingredients on a bag of pet kibble some time; chicken meal, bone meal, meat meal, etc. are just as "real" as oat meal, corn meal, rice meal, etc. (Oatmeal and cornmeal are usually expressed as single words.) Etymologically, "meal" is just "food that has been milled".
    – Matthew
    Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 14:38
  • 4
    While the "a" does disambiguate, that's not the reason why you need the "a". Even if there isn't any alternative uncountable noun meaning, you would still need the article: e.g. "I wouldn't call it beautiful aeroplane" is not grammatical (substitute other nouns as desired).
    – R.M.
    Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 18:33
  • 5
    @jaxad0127 My point is that "you need an article to avoid ambiguity" is slightly misleading. Yes, having the article disambiguates, but the ambiguity is not why you need the article. Even if there wasn't an uncountable version, you'd still need the article. It's not optional, even in cases with no ambiguity.
    – R.M.
    Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 19:25

"Meal" is a common noun. There are lots of meals. I eat 3 a day, at least. You need the article if you are singling out just one meal (or one type of meal). If you dropped it, it would be wrong.

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