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In one English text book I saw "He has piano class at 5 o'clock" and somebody told me that that was a mistake meaning that indefinite article should precede the word "piano" in that sentence.

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    If I were being pedantic, I'd say "He has a piano lesson." But "class" is often treated as a synonym of "lesson".
    – James K
    Mar 27, 2023 at 17:48
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    I suspect that lesson/class is an BrE/AmE distinction. Both "he has piano class" and "he has a piano class" sound very American to me. "He has a piano lesson" sounds right, and "He has piano lesson" is just completely wrong. Mar 29, 2023 at 7:45
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    Using "class" sounds very American to this Brit. As for the article, "He has a piano lesson" or "He has piano lessons". The plural suggests that they are part of his regular schedule. Using an article and singular "lesson" suggests (slightly) that this lesson is not part of his regular schedule. Compare "I have a dentist appointment on Tuesday morning". Plural is wrong ... or cause for great sympathy.
    – nigel222
    Mar 29, 2023 at 11:03
  • American here, "class" sounds wrong if one is meeting privately with a teacher. It might work I guess if you're in a classroom with a bunch of other students learning theory or something. It's always been "piano lesson" in my experience.
    – Robert M.
    Mar 30, 2023 at 23:43

6 Answers 6

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1: He has a piano class at 5 o'clock
2: He has piano class at 5 o'clock

"Somebody" told the OP incorrect information. Both sentences are syntactically fine, but version #2 without the article (a) is significantly less common1.

The article-less version carries a stronger implication that the subject has regular piano lessons. Plus it somewhat implies that speaker and audience also move in social circles where piano lessons are a "familiar, normal" part of life.


1 For what it's worth, this chart suggests that the article-less AmE version of have English class has actually overtaken the "normal" version in the last couple of decades. I suspect this may reflect the relatively high proportion of non-native speakers involved, but I'm just guessing there.

As discussed in comments below, piano class is itself "unusual" compared to piano lesson, but that's another story.

Also, the article-less versions of all "types of class" are too rare to meaningfully check for a possible US/UK usage split regarding including the article or not. I think the article-less version is more likely in Am|E than BrE, but that probably just reflects the fact that piano / Bible / English classes are more common in America than Britain. The usage distinction applies to all Anglophones, but the referent for the article-less versions occurs more often in America.

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    I have the impression that omitting the indefinite article like that is more an American thing. Mar 27, 2023 at 12:59
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    The idea of "piano class" is almost inconceivable to this Brit. "Class" to me means a teacher teaching several pupils - is piano ever taught that way???
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 27, 2023 at 15:11
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    @Colin Fine: Agreed, I would expect "lesson" rather than "class". And in that case I would expect "a piano lesson at 5" or "piano lessons at 5". Mar 27, 2023 at 15:26
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    Actually, I don't think that Brits should be answering this question at all, because in British English, you don't go to "X class" with or without an article. You go to "X classes" or "an X lesson" or "an X course".
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 27, 2023 at 15:42
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    @MarkMorganLloyd: But me and Colin (and MichaelHarvey) are Brits! Surely we can choose our own demonym! Mar 28, 2023 at 9:44
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Just to add another perspective for what it's worth. In American English, everyone I know would say "I have piano class" without the a. Similarly, we would say:

  1. "I have basketball practice"
  2. "I'm going to Bible study tonight"
  3. "Ms. Frizzle teaches science class at Walkerville School"
  4. "Don't forget we have rehearsal at 6:00"

This usage is limited to regularly scheduled subjects of practice or study- you would expect them to be daily or weekly. One would never say "I'm going to piano recital."

Edit: An important takeaway of this whole post is that this usage depends on the dialect spoken. Based on comments, I edited the examples so they better match the original question, while still illustrating cases where it's acceptable to include or omit an article (a, the, or both).

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    American here, 100% agree. To me, it actually sounds quite formal to include the a.
    – jtb
    Mar 28, 2023 at 20:47
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    Although I do like the answer, and I think it is helpful, who would use "a" for: "I'm going to Bible class/study tonight” (because that sounds like a fixed arrangement)• "Ms. Frizzle teaches science” (class in science class is a bit redundant) • "Don't forget (the) rehearsal at 6:00” I doubt any English dialect would feel the necessity to add a in the last example. If you can find supporting evidence where the indefinite article "a" is / can be used in the last three examples then, for what it's worth, +1.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 28, 2023 at 21:20
  • @Mari-LouA Your last example needs a definite article, not an indefinite article, and I would definitely put it in: "Don't forget the rehearsal at six". (BrE, mid-60s) Mar 29, 2023 at 7:43
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    @Mari-LouA AmE here: "Don't forget a rehearsal at 6:00" sounds non-idiomatic but "Don't forget we have a rehearsal at 6:00" sounds fine to my ears, and in that situation we could easily drop the article and have "Don't forget we have rehearsal at 6:00" and that would also be fine. Mar 29, 2023 at 17:03
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    @Mari-LouA After some thought, I would (and do) say I'm going to a Bible study if the person I'm talking with isn't also participant and/or if I don't expect them to know that this study is a regularly scheduled activity. I agree that science class is a bit redundant in 2), but sometimes (informal) English is just like that- I added more context to make both inclusion and omission sound more natural. I see your point for 4) and changed the phrasing as called2voyage suggested
    – automaton
    Mar 29, 2023 at 18:12
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"John has Spanish class on Wednesday at 5:30" means almost the same thing as "John has a Spanish class on Wednesday at 5:30."

However, in my dialect at least, you would be more likely to use the first option if John has a regular class John between 5:30 and 6:30, whereas the second one only contains information about next Wednesday.

So in the first example you might well replace "on Wednesday", with "every Wednesday", "on Wednesdays" or even "Wednesdays". With the second example, you'd be less likely to make such changes. It would be perfectly correct grammatically to use such alternative expressions, but at least a little less likely.

There is an important grammatical difference between the two sentences, though: in the first example "class" is referring to an uncountable activity, while in the second what it refers to is a countable event: i.e., a lesson.

To illustrate the point, let's find a strictly uncountable word referring to an activity (such as 'training' for example).

Let's take (say) "Millie has Excel training next Monday". The sentence tells us (of course) about an activity that has been scheduled for Millie on Monday.

But since uncountable nouns don't take the indefinite article, you can't say "Millie has an Excel training next Monday." If you wanted to add an indefinite article for some reason, you'd have to turn "Excel training" into an adjectival phrase conditioning a countable noun: e.g., "Millie has an Excel training session next Monday."

So, going back to the questioner's original example ... "He has a piano class at 5 o'clock" can be interpreted as "He has a piano lesson at 5 o'clock", while with "He has piano class at 5 o'clock", 'class' is being used as a synonym for 'supervised practice' or some other descriptive expression describing the activity.

"He has piano lesson at 5 o'clock" would be bad grammar, because a lesson is strictly a countable noun and thus needs the indefinite article 'a'.

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As an American who was raised in the Mid-Atlantic, I could see using class and lesson(s) interchangeably, but I would never use class without the article unless there were multiple students AND multiple lessons/sessions and even then I might still use the article.

  • He has (a) piano class every Tuesday.
  • He has piano lessons every Tuesday.
  • He has a piano class/lesson today.

Oddly, I think that if I said “He has piano classes every Tuesday” some people would think I meant multiple, separate classes on each Tuesday.

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To me, "John has a class" implies that he's teaching the class, or perhaps that the person being spoken to is being informed for the first time that he has a class. Californian here.

"He has class" sounds natural to me for someone who is taking a class, and weakly implies the recipient already knows that John is taking that class.

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  • He has class, without the piano, simply indicates that he is well-bred and refined. It has nothing to do with learning.
    – Chenmunka
    Mar 31, 2023 at 6:35
  • That's not necessarily true and depends on context. A: "Will J be home tonight?" B: "No, he has class tonight" vs A: "What do you think of J?" B: "He has class and he's charming too."
    – Robert M.
    Apr 1, 2023 at 0:02
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'He has piano class' would never be accepted in British English but that has nothing to do with any difference between 'class' and 'lesson.'

Who doubts 'He has piano lesson' would be no more accepted in US American than in British form? Still, that is not to do with comparing 'class' and 'lesson'.

In US American it is, and in British English it could never be acceptable to use 'he has piano class'; Brits only, ever use '… a piano class' or '… piano classes.'

Please don't suggest 'class' is US American as opposed to British English, until you can provide examples. Can you?

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