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I learned from the article Definite and Indefinite Articles (a, an, the) - TIP Sheets - Butte College. We could use no article with plural count nouns or any noncount nouns used to mean all or in general. For example:

  1. Trees are beautiful in the fall. (All trees are beautiful in the fall.)
  2. He was asking for advice. (He was asking for advice in general.)
  3. I do not like coffee. (I do not like all coffee in general.)

But for the 2nd sentence, I don't understand why it's interpreted as "advice in general"? I don't think a person can ask for all advice.

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  • 1. Wrong conclusion (a dying tree is not beautiful, and evergreen trees aren't special in the fall). 2. He may be asking for specific advice ('advice' often doesn't take an article anyway). 3. Is a general statement (there may be exceptions). Commented May 21 at 12:19
  • @WeatherVane Thanks for your reply. Therefore the 2nd sentence is explained wrongly in the article?
    – Zelin
    Commented May 21 at 12:19
  • It's a poor example, since we dont say "He was asking for an/the advice." Commented May 21 at 12:21
  • "He asked for coffee" means he wanted some coffee to drink, not all the coffee or anything like that. Similarly "There is coffee for after dinner" means there's enough of some type of coffee for everyone having dinner, but doesn't imply anything larger or more general. Uncountable nouns generally don't need articles or determiners, although you can use them to clarify meaning. The tip sheet by its nature is a simplification.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 21 at 12:39
  • @StuartF Thanks for your reply. I agree with your comments and think the essay misunderstand "in general"
    – Zelin
    Commented May 21 at 13:27

2 Answers 2

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Your source is wrong (if quoted correctly). Zero articles or null determiners (used with uncountable and plural countable nouns) can be either universal/generic (all/in general) or existential (some):

  • I hate advice. (I hate all advice.)
  • I need advice. (I need some advice.)

Your example 2 is existential, i.e. "He was asking for (some) advice."

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What you've learned about zero-article nouns seems sound, but the examples are mostly bad.

'Advice', as a noun on its own, is always uncountable - it never has an article and cannot be pluralised. Uncountable things can be quantified - you can say "some advice", for example. You can also use other units to separate it, such as "a piece of advice", or make a noun phrase that refers to some specific piece of advice, such as "the advice you gave me".

"He was asking for advice" does not mean 'advice in general'. One asks for advice when it is needed about something specific, such as you need help with a particular subject or task. If you were trying to repair a car, asked "hey, can I have some advice?" and received the reply "don't eat greasy food", that would certainly be general advice but not what you were looking for. Likewise, zero-article nouns are for making statements that apply generally. 'Advice' could mean all advice just like 'water' could mean all water everywhere. "He was asking for water" would not mean he was asking for all water in existence to be brought to him. So, this is a terrible example.

Coffee, like all liquids, is a quantifiable substance, not a countable item. You can have some coffee. However, like advice, you can make liquids into units - for example, a glass of water or a cup of coffee. When anyone says "a coffee" they mean a cup.

Your example "I do not like coffee" is certainly a reference to coffee in general, but it's not as complex as you have described and probably a bad example of a zero-article being used to make a generalisation. "Coffee is brown" is a zero-article generalisation, a personal preference is not.

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  • Also countified for types: 'The two most commonly used coffees are Coffea arabica and Coffea robusta.' Please also check (reference above) on the difference Peter Master sensibly claims between the zero and null articles (both equally 'invisible'). Commented May 21 at 21:52
  • "'Advice' is always an uncountable noun - it never has an article and cannot be pluralised." The advice you're giving is quite wrong. Commented May 22 at 2:40
  • @Acccumulation But "the advice you're giving" is a noun phrase. It's some specific advice. The word never has an article on its own. I thought I made that clear?
    – Astralbee
    Commented May 22 at 8:09
  • The qualifier "on its own" is separated from the phrase "never has an article" by a hyphen (presumably, intended as a dash), the most obvious antecedent of "it" is "the word advice", not "the word advice on its own", and it's not even clear what "on its own" means. Of course if you put an article next to it, it's no longer on its own. Commented May 22 at 12:30
  • @Acccumulation I don't understand your point at all
    – Astralbee
    Commented May 22 at 13:24

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