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I think the title learner's dictionary means a learner's dictionary, but why omit the indefinite article? Wouldn't it be clearer to say learners' dictionary?

  • 1
    Are you asking whether the indefinite article should be included or where the apostrophe should go? Or are you asking two questions? Jun 11, 2022 at 0:06

2 Answers 2


1. Why no "a"

In general, the indefinite article ("a") is pretty rare in the names of books. The definite article ("the") is much more common, but by far the most common is no article at all. Why is this?

First of all, in non-fiction books where the title describes the book's contents, the indefinite article is uncommon because it implies that the book is one of many possible realizations of its title. For example, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States has the indefinite article in its title because Zinn wants to imply that his history is not the only possible history, or that his book is not an absolute authority. Other examples (picked off my bookshelf at random) include:

A Guide to Old English: The book is indeed a guide to Old English, but the title acknowledges that it is not the only such guide.
An Introduction to Ordinary Differential Equations: Again, the book is an introduction to ODE's, but (as the title implies) it is just one of many.
A Tale of Two Cities: So called because there are many stories that involve the two cities in question (Paris and London). The "a" here is also a bit of stylistic humility on the part of Dickens--it's just 'a story', nothing special.

The definite article is common for non-fiction works that want to present themselves as authoritative. There are many examples of this, but just to name a few:

The Oxford English Dictionary: Widely regarded as the most authoritative English dictionary
Numerous classical works: The Bible, The Iliad, The Republic, The Tao Te Ching, etc.
History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: A book which was created to be (and succeeded at being) an authority on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

But most books have no article in their names at all: they do not want to make a claim (in their title no less!) about if they are authoritative or not. In the case of these learner's dictionaries, they simply do not want to imply either that they are just one of many possible options (with "a") or that they are the best, most authoritative option (with "the")

2. Learners' vs. Learner's

This is much simpler to answer. The authors have all chosen to use Learner's Dictionary for two reasons:

  1. It is conventional to do so.

  2. Not every learner will use their dictionary. Learners' Dictionary carries strange connotations with it: do the authors mean for every ELL to use it? is it meant to be the common property of all learners? Learner's Dictionary avoids this problem: it is the dictionary for a learner.

  • I think the rationale for using the singular in "a tale of" is mistaken: "So called because there are many stories that involve the two cities in question" if that was the case for using the indefinite article, why would "The tales of two cities" be wrong?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 11, 2022 at 6:57
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA The Tales of Two Cities would not be wrong, nor would Tales of Two Cities; this is a matter of style, not correctness. I'm arguing that the reason Dickens uses A Tale is because he want to imply that his story is just one of the many many stories that have taken place in Paris and London: "Paris and London have been the scene of many tales: here's one." The Tales of Two Cities suggest that the book will not only contain many tales, but will be in some way an authoritative selection; it will contain all the important tales. But that's not what the book is.
    – George K.
    Jun 11, 2022 at 12:02

Saying "a learner's dictionary" on a cover page is just weird, although grammatical, it is not your typical dictionary book cover page. It omits "a" to generalise the use of the dictionary to show how it is a standardised dictionary and not "a dictionary".

Omitting an article (definite or indefinite) in a title is done for brevity and in order to attract more attention. @Pantelis Sopasakis

Source: What's the general rule for dropping articles in article & section titles or in figure & table captions?


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