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I am intrigued by these three sentences in dictionaries:

  1. Mother and child form a close attachment.
  2. Physical contact between a mother and child is very important.
  3. Mother and son lost contact when Nicholas was in his early twenties. 

Do the following rewrites sound good? Is there any difference?

  1. A mother and child form a close attachment. 
  2. Physical contact between mother and child is very important.
  3. The mother and son lost contact when Nicholas was in his early twenties. 
  4. The mother and the son lost contact when Nicholas was in his early twenties. 

I guess sentence 5 does not work, because physical contact forces us to create the image of two subjects.

A dictionary says that “a” is used once before two nouns that are mentioned together very often, for example, “I'll fetch you a cup and saucer. Does everyone have a knife and fork?” Therefore, I guess it is not good to write “a mother and a child” in sentence 1 and 2.

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  • 6
    I don't think there's anything obviously wrong with any of your examples. You're certainly mistaken if you think "sentence 5 does not work". It's fine. Jan 4 at 16:31
  • 3
    4, 5, 6, and 7 are all OK. Jan 4 at 16:31
  • 5
    It's normal to omit the second article when it's the mother's own child. "A mother and a child" sounds slightly odd to me, as though it were some random child. Jan 4 at 16:56
  • 1
    What @KateBunting said, and "the mother and the son" sounds odd to me, as if they're not a pair, and perhaps they both lost contact with someone else, like the father.
    – gotube
    Jan 5 at 4:53

1 Answer 1

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+100

A mother and child form a close attachment.

Mother and child form a close attachment.

Physical contact between a mother and child is very important.

Physical contact between mother and child is very important.

To me, these two pairs of sentences convey the same meaning.

In each pair, the top one denotes one specific pair of mother-child, while the second one denotes pairs of mother-childs in general.

The mother and son lost contact when Nicholas was in his early twenties.

The mother and the son lost contact when Nicholas was in his early twenties.

To me, the sentence below is more grammatical, as The mother and son feels like a noun phrase; as such, the above sentence has no object (with whom have they lost contact?). Meanwhile, the object of the sentence below is automatically conveyed as both the mother and the son, since lost contact with changes to a reciprocal verb (a verb that affects both parties involved [A → B; B → A]) when and is present.

Unfortunately, I have no other sources other than my ears. However, I do hope this helped!

Edit: I recommend that you don't dwell too much on articles. Unlike other Indo-European languages, the importance of articles in English is miniscule.

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  • Inferring from your explanation, the form "mother and son" should denote pairs of mother-childs in general, but in the context "Mother and son lost contact when Nicholas was in his early twenties", it denotes one specific pair of mother-son. Why is that?
    – joy2020
    Jan 9 at 15:22
  • @joy2020 Actually, the construction "Mother and son lost contact when Nicholas was in his early twenties" sounds weird, almost ungrammatical actually. Even if it didn't, they would be understood as denoting only one pair of mother-son from context (when Nicholas was in his early twenties). Jan 11 at 2:41
  • This sentence is from collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/to-lose-contact
    – joy2020
    Jan 15 at 1:27
  • @joy2020 My apologies, but I've never heard of such constructions. I'm not saying it's wrong, in fact I never said it was wrong, it just sounded weird to my ears Jan 15 at 7:49

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