While practicing the usage of the English articles, I encountered the following exercises:

  1. There was a collision between a car and a cyclist at the crossroads near - my house early in the morning. The cyclist was taken to - hospital with a concussion. The driver of the . car was treated for - shock. - witnesses say that the car was going at - seventy miles an hour.

In the placed marked as a quote, the answer key suggests zero article as to indicate that the witnesses are indefinite although I guess it is fair to say that the contexts points out that there was an accident and these witnesses must be the witnesses of the accident, not some random witnesses. Another kettle of fish would be if the sentence mentioned merely their existence as in the following:

There were witnesses who claimed to have seen the accident.

Here I could understand that the sentence just introduces the fact to the hearer that there were SOME witnesses who had seen the accident.

Therefore, I have been racking my brain why the author claims that the version with "zero" article is correct? Am I missing the point somewhere?

The excerpt is taken from: A Practical English Grammar Exercises 1 A.J. Thomson, A.V. Martinet

  • 2
    It can be inferred that these were some of the witnesses of the accident, but not necessarily all of them. The zero article is used because it's introducing the fact that there is a set of people who both (a) witnessed the accident and (b) were interviewed by the person writing the account of the accident. Nov 20, 2023 at 21:13

2 Answers 2


The witnesses say would imply unanimity, which might not be the case, or might not even be possible to say if all of those who witnessed the accident had not been interviewed.

Some witnesses say would imply that there is a difference of opinion, which might not be the case if only several of the witnesses had been interviewed or had given a statement.

A witness says would suggest that, at least so far, only one witness has made such a statement.

Witnesses say skirts all of the above problems and means simply that more than one witness has said the car was speeding. The salient point is that there is corroboration.

more than one witness is non-referential and indeterminate.


Witnesses is plural because it is a general statement about them. The article could have said the witnesses but it is not necessary.

70 miles an hour is standard for speeds.

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