I've learnt countable nouns must always have determiners or should be plural. However, the construction pattern between A and B seems to be an exception.

There are even stories of half-trained elephant calves who have refused to feed and pined to death when by some unavoidable circumstance they have been deprived of their own trainer. Such extreme cases should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but they do underline the general principle that the relationship between elephant and mahout is the key to successful training. (This is written by Richard Carrington.)

Maybe the pattern "A and/or/nor B" is also an exception.

Mother and child form a close attachment. (This is in a Collins dictionary)

Elephant and mahout form a close attachment. (I wrote this.)

It's not a fit night out for man or/nor beast. (This is in Merriam-Webster's Advanced Learner's Dictionary) (I understand man is used as an uncountable noun here, but beast is always countable.)

  • They are 'bare' NP's, the type that don't require a determiner. See here link.
    – BillJ
    Commented May 28, 2022 at 17:12
  • 2
    I think the principle behind whether we include a determiner or not is to do with the meaning [in context] rather than some particular sequence of words such as between X and Y. Basically, it's when X and Y are "universal / archetypal" references, far removed from any specific instances of X and Y. Consider (1) It's good for man to respect God as a "universal" observation, where the equally valid (2) It's good for a man to respect his god has a more "localised, parochial" flavour. Commented May 28, 2022 at 17:21
  • (Also consider the endless speculation about whether Armstrong did or should have included an article in That’s one small step for {A} man, one giant leap for mankind Commented May 28, 2022 at 17:27

1 Answer 1


not man nor beast is a non-countable use of beast. A dictionary's assignment of countability to a noun isn't absolute. See:

nouns and countability
"The customary disjunctive marking of lexical entries for English nouns as [± countable] does not match the fact that the majority can be used both countably and uncountably in different NP environments: this binary opposition is characteristic not of the nouns, but of the NP's which they head. "

I'm tired now; give me a coffee.

  • I fail to understand this sentence: this binary opposition is characteristic not of the nouns, but of the NP's which they head. Can you paraphrase and give an example? Here is my guess: "this binary opposition" refers to the dichotomy between countable and non-countable. Nouns don't have this dichotomy, but noun phrases have? So a noun phrase is either countable or non-countable? Is "elephant and mahout" such a noun phrase?
    – joy2020
    Commented May 30, 2022 at 0:40
  • "Elephant and mahout" is a noun phrase consisting of two coordinated nouns. According to this reference books.google.com/… "Nouns that have only a count interpretation or only a non-count interpretation are in a minority. Most nouns can be used with either type of interpretation." The reference gives examples of nouns used both ways. Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 19:24

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