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This is from William Gibson's Neuromancer:

The impact with pavement drove dull rods of pain through his shins.

Why is there no article before pavement?

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    @Nadirspam: as a Gibson fan, be aware that his books aren't easy to read - and I say that as a native English speaker! I find his prose extremely dense, and his books tend to take me longer to read than their length might suggest. So don't worry if you're finding this book hard to read; you're not alone! Jan 28 at 12:45
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    @Nadirspam as a scifi lover, I've never been able to finish a William Gibson book. If you want more approachable sci-fi that still has fun vocab lessons, Asimov is great. Jan 28 at 15:16

3 Answers 3

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Because he is using pavement as an uncountable noun, denoting a substance.

In my experience this is not a common use, but I suspect that that is my British English background: in British English, pavement is almost always used to mean what AmE calls "sidewalk", and not as a general term for the surface material.

Note that your title says "before a name", but to an English reader "a name" means a proper noun (eg of a person or place), not a common noun such as "pavement".

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    Corks! It would never have occurred to me to think of "pavement" as a "substance". Personally, I'd say the writer isn't so good (maybe the more credible term paving didn't occur to him, but I don't think it's an appropriate context for an "uncountable substance" noun with that meaning anyway). Jan 27 at 17:31
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    As an AmE speaker I'm familiar with this use ("Roller skates work better on pavement than on grass"), but still find the zero-article odd in the OP's example. What if the word had been "turf"? "The impact with turf drove..."? It seems allowable, but "the" would have made more sense. Jan 27 at 17:45
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    @FumbleFingers "Pavement" as a collective noun is perfectly ordinary in American English. Since Gibson is (North) American it would be expected for him to use "pavement" rather than "paving". Though I agree "the pavement" would feel more natural.
    – nasch
    Jan 28 at 2:43
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    Uncountable noun for pavement seems natural to my Canadian ear. I'm surprise it's not common in American english.
    – Jeffrey
    Jan 28 at 14:13
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    I agree that it's a perfectly valid sentence and not at all unnatural. Perhaps he had been running on soft grass and then switched to pavement, for example. I sometimes come here if I see a question in the hot network questions and I'm amazed at how often a valid sentence is called incorrect.
    – Thierry
    Jan 28 at 19:19
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As a native English speaker, I find this usage very unnatural, and I don't agree with the "uncountable noun" argument. Honestly, my first impression is that it's just a typo, and the word "the" has been left out accidentally.

However, the sentence is from a work of fiction. It's possible that the author is "breaking the rules" to achieve a particular artistic effect.

I looked up the passage in the book that contains this sentence. It's part of a scene where the character is running away from someone, and it comes after a number of sentence fragments. I think the author is trying to achieve a fast-paced, panicked effect by leaving out words.


Edited to add: There are several words in English that can be either countable or uncountable depending on context. I can't find a good online source, but I think in most cases the uncountable version is generic, and the countable version refers to a specific instance.

Another example: "You can recycle paper" (generic) versus "Please write your name on the paper" (specific).

In this case I think "The impact with pavement..." feels unnatural because it's part of a narrative: the sentence refers to a specific person at a specific place, not pavement in general.

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Clearly the vast majority of users with voting powers (and the inclination to use them in relation to this question) either already think that using pavement as an "uncountable mass noun" (same as, for example, cement or concrete) is "natural", OR they've become convinced of that judgement after reading Colin's excellent answer here.

Personally, I'm not convinced the average non-native speaker stands to gain much—if anything—from being made aware of this particular usage. And IMHO, the nature of how answers are posted and upvoted here on ELL does sometimes tend to give more prominence to usages that are uncommon, but in principle "valid". So for the the avoidance of doubt, here's a chart showing relative prevalence...

enter image description here

That chart is generated from the entire Google Books corpus. The only difference if you restrict it to British English is that the thin blue line at the bottom of the chart (for "article-less usages") disappears completely.

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    Colin said that it’s an uncommon usage, but here is why it’s valid in this particular case. I agree that telling an ESL student about all the weird special cases can be confusing rather than helpful. In this case, though, the OP was specifically asking about this one sentence that broke the pattern and confused them.
    – Davislor
    Jan 28 at 18:00
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    Gibson is an American-Canadian author... why are we fixating on British usage? Pavement is perfectly fine in AmE both with and without an article. From an example sentence Jennifer said nothing more for the remainder of the trip down the mountain until the Jeep finally rolled onto pavement and they entered the still busy town. Also, If you run often, and it's always on pavement, you could sustain significant damage to your knees.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 28 at 21:48
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    For what it’s worth, as an American English speaker, I find the phrase “the impact with pavement” completely normal and unremarkable. Grammatically, it’s identical to “the impact with concrete.” But it’s probably worth knowing that “pavement” is one of those words that means something very different in the US and the UK. Jan 28 at 22:46
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    @TannerSwett As an American speaker I would not consider it identical--to me "pavement" covers both concrete and asphalt and any other hypothetical cast-in-place road material. Jan 29 at 1:33
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    @Mergasov In the Jennifer example, I assume the track down from the mountain that the Jeep is driving on is a dirt road - it's only as they get close to town that the dirt is replaced with pavement, so again the emphasis is on the different kind of surface.
    – Showsni
    Jan 30 at 14:23

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