When scouring thefreedictionary to find a word I didn't know the meaning of, I encountered this definition for the phrase "hands off"

An instruction for one to refrain from touching or handling (something or someone). (Usually said imperatively.) Hey, hands off those cookies, they're for after dinner!

Why "dinner" in this example-sentence doesn't have an article? Dinner is a noun after all. What rule determines that it is omitted?

2 Answers 2


Names of meal(time)s don't usually take an article unless the meal is a special occasion - A dinner was held in honour of Professor Smith.

For a routine meal -

Have you had breakfast?

Let's go for a walk after lunch.


We don't normally use articles before the names of routine daily meals -

I will have eggs for breakfast.

Mother cooked chicken for dinner.

Will there be ham and salad for tea?

I like a cup of tea and ginger biscuits for supper.

We can use an article when discussing some specific or hypothetical meal:

I always enjoyed the breakfasts my grandmother cooked.

The dinner last night was spoiled because my mother was drunk and hit my father.

I prefer a tea without tinned salmon.

In each of these last three examples, the article may be omitted.

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