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Why is there no article used with state champion and national record holder in this sentence?

In high school he was state champion and national record holder.

What would happen if a or the were inserted?

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In this case, state champion functions as a title or position, so articles are unnecessary. We're expected understand the context (notice that which state wasn't specified!) and that there's only one champion at a time, because that's part of the nature and definition of state champion. See this question for further details on why no article is needed.

If you want to add an article, use the. Again, because of what state champion means, we understand that there can only be one person at a time holding this specific title for a particular state. Adding the preserves essentially the same meaning, but places slightly greater emphasis on the title. This usage would be common when, for example, discussing someone who had just acquired the position; e.g. he is the new state champion.

However, if the subject is being identified as one generic member of a group of state champions, then a should be used, not the. For example: he's qualified to play in the national all-star game because he's a state champion. If this is the case, then a is required, because not using any article at all changes the meaning.

National record holder should have an article preceding it. Without further qualifications, it's not clear what the record is, so this can't be a specific title or station. There are lots of different records a country might track, so it would be appropriate to use the indefinite article a, as there are likely to be many different record holders.

Saying he is the national record holder without specifying which record is grammatically but not semantically correct, because we aren't given enough information for the statement to make sense. You don't have to say which record in the same sentence if it's clear from the context, but your question gives us only the naked statement to work with.

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    Why only "the" before "state champion"? Couldn't there be more than one, in various fields like tennis, swimming etc? Also, doesn't the ambiguity pertaining to "national record holder" also apply to state champion for the same reason? Lastly, what if it read "national champion"? would anything change then? – Harsh Kanchina Aug 8 '14 at 7:11
  • We were discussing in chat reasons why you might not notice the missing article before national record holder unless you think about it. I don't know about you, but both of us chatters missed it the first time we read it! – snailboat Aug 8 '14 at 7:24
  • @Sam Sure, but that falls under the purview of the latter paragraph: being a member of a group of state champions, which is a less likely usage. The ambiguity is present in record holder but not (or at least is sorely reduced) in state (or national) champion because the latter is inherently more specific, and the primary noun (champion versus holder) carries the right sort of connotations as a station or title (title as in lord or doctor). You raise a good point, though, and if sorely pressed, I'll end up falling back on it's just idiomatic that way. – Esoteric Screen Name Aug 8 '14 at 8:07
  • @snailplane Intriguing! Do you think you didn't notice the omission for linguistic or psychological reasons (e.g. a word-level version of this effect)? – Esoteric Screen Name Aug 8 '14 at 8:13
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Inserting an article would change the sense slightly. The indefinite article "a" shifts the focus away (very slightly) from his exceptional achievements by making him just one of many (which is acceptable English, if that meaning conveys the intended message). The definite article "the" suggests that he was the only one at the time, which is grammatical but may be false.

These are adjectival phrases—phrases that function grammatically like adjectives. They fit in the same places as green or popular, placing the focus of the statement on the person and their notable features.

So this:

In high school he was state champion and national record holder.

follows the same grammatical structure as this:

In high school he was green and popular.

  • "The definite article 'the' suggests that he was the only one for all his high school career" Incorrect. The says nothing about the duration of his tenure as state champion, though it does mean that he was the only state champion (of his particular state of residence) while he held the title. The initial clause in high school frames the general time, but it's wrong to assume that it means throughout all of high school. – Esoteric Screen Name Aug 8 '14 at 1:14
  • @Eso Good point! Let me change it to "at the time". :) – SevenSidedDie Aug 8 '14 at 1:35

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