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Higher prices would not stop them from using car as their first choice of transportation

What's the grammatical reason that this sentence is incorrect, and "the car" or "cars" has to be said instead of simply "car"?

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    Who states that is it incorrect? It seems unusual to me but I would hesitate to call it incorrect.
    – mdewey
    Mar 2, 2022 at 13:52
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    All three ways are not normal regardless of correctness. I would use "a car." That is the common phrasing. (cars is pretty normal, but still not the best IMO)
    – Eli Harold
    Mar 2, 2022 at 14:26
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    [...] stop them using a car or the car etc.
    – Lambie
    Mar 2, 2022 at 15:47

2 Answers 2

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This is getting to how we express levels of abstraction and collective nouns and categories.

As the quote stands, the word "car" is referring to something non-specific and without quantity or difference. That is, it is referring to "car" in the abstract rather than in the specific.

Compare that with the following.

Lower prices do not encourage them to use transit as their first choice.

Lower prices do not encourage them to use a bus as their first choice.

Lower prices do not encourage them to use the Bloor Subway as their first choice.

(Bloor is a street in Toronto, Canada. There is a subway that runs parallel to it.)

Here "transit" is an abstract thing. That is, it is a category of transportation. "A bus" is a thing, but not a specific thing. It is more specific than transit, but still not specific to a particular bus. "The Bloor Subway" is a specific thing.

Treating "car" as an abstract indefinite thing is unusual. I'm not sure whether it is grammatically correct or not. But it sounds very strange. If you were in fact in a car you would be in a specific car. You would not ordinarily refer to this as "I am riding car." Where if you were on a bus you could say "I am taking transit." We don't usually use "car" as an abstract indefinite category in this way.

You might want to say something like "transportation by car" or some such rather than "car." That is, you might choose some abstract phrase that indicates using a car but not a specific car.

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    +1, but note that in AmE we do not say "I am taking transit." Instead we say "I am taking the bus" (the train, the subway) even if we aren't specifying the specific transit line or the specific vehicle in use.
    – randomhead
    Mar 2, 2022 at 14:39
  • @randomhead same in British English.
    – minseong
    Mar 2, 2022 at 15:09
  • Hmmm... In Canada, we do say "I am taking transit." English is quite a thing. narcity.com/toronto/…
    – Dan
    Mar 2, 2022 at 16:38
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    From an AmE perspective, I find "using car" completely unacceptable in all contexts. Mar 2, 2022 at 17:25
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    In AmE or British, would you say "I am taking public transport?" Maybe the issue is the word transit? A brief search of some few British sources seems to indicate that "transit" is used nearly always for "crossing over" and similar. In the US, it seems like it is "mass transit" not just transit.
    – Dan
    Mar 3, 2022 at 1:43
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At first look, it could seem like the word 'car' is missing an article or a possessive pronoun, for example, "a car", or "their car". In most contexts, the grammar of your example would be considered incorrect.

But, depending on the wider context, your example might be acceptable as it is.

It sounds like the quote could be referring to a large cohort of people - perhaps the results of a survey. They could have been asked how they travel - by car, by bus, by train etc. When we speak about these as modes of transport, they don't need an article. If 'car' didn't need would an article or determiner in the question, nor would it in the answer or any subsequent references to that answer, for example:

Person A: What do you think is the best way to travel to work - by car, or by bus?
Person B: Car.
Person A: Why did you answer "car"?

In such a context, where you are speaking about the responses of a large, impersonal group, it would also be wrong to assume that every person who travels by car travels in a car that belongs to them, so "their car" isn't really appropriate anyway.

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    There is no such context to make "car" acceptable here. Why does it sound jarring in the first place? And why is it "missing" a determiner? What rule of grammar necessitates it to have one in this sentence?
    – minseong
    Mar 2, 2022 at 15:10
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    As I mentioned above, I don't find "using car" just "jarring," but completely unacceptable in all imaginable circumstances. Mar 2, 2022 at 17:27
  • @theonlygusti You're quite wrong, there is a context, it is pretty exclusive but it could well apply to the OP's example, depending on the context which they have not provided. I had already alluded to it in my answer but I've added in a specific example.
    – Astralbee
    Mar 3, 2022 at 9:31
  • @Vegawatcher Then your imagination is limited.
    – Astralbee
    Mar 3, 2022 at 9:32
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    In your example the car is not a car. It is, instead, an answer. Your example works for any and all nouns when the noun ceases to be itself and becomes an answer. With due respect, I don't think it works. Using car does not work. Answering a question with the word car does.
    – EllieK
    Mar 3, 2022 at 21:03

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