After the middle of the fourth millennium the increase of permanently settled population in central Babylonia was minor and can be explained as the result of natural growth. In the south around the city of Uruk, however, there was an enormous escalation in the area occupied by permanent settlement.

(from A History of the Ancient Near East by Marc Van De Mieroop)

While I have no difficulties in understanding of this excerpt general meaning, I wonder why the bolded (by me) phrase is not prepended with an article here.

According to dictionaries (for example, Merriam-Webster), the word settlement may refer to either a place or the process of settling (of course, we do not consider other, irrelevant, meanings).

As far as I can see, the author relates about the specific inhabited place - that around the city of Uruk. And it is hard to say that permanent settlement conveys the meaning of the generalized idea of all settled places here, so the phrase needs the definite article, doesn't it?

  • The author is talking, not about the growth of the city itself, but the area around the city. I imagine that 'the area occupied by permanent settlement' may have included many small villages covering an increasingly large area. Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 12:56
  • I think the justification for not having an article before [permanent] settlement here turns on the fact that it's being used as an abstract noun - referencing the act of settlement / the state of being settled, rather than the more "concrete" noun usage referring to an actual location which has been settled. Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 17:04

1 Answer 1


Merriam-Webster gives a third definition of "settlement":

3a : occupation by settlers

and this is the one being used here.

there was an enormous escalation in the area occupied by permanent occupation by settlers.

So it's neither the place nor the process of occupying, but the ongoing state of settlers occupying the space.

In this context, "settlement" is a general concept, not a specific instance, so zero article is correct.

  • I agree with you but still feel a bit confusing because of the used verb to occupy. Just IMHO, when particular land is occupied by something it connotates a (specific) settlement, not the state of being settled. What if one'd say the area under permanent settlement, does it sound good? Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 14:18
  • @IlyaLoskutov You're right that when you parse the sentence, it doesn't make perfect sense. Yes, "under permanent settlement" is a better way to phrase it.
    – gotube
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 14:33

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