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I am interested in the article usage in this specific expression. I see that sometimes 'a' and sometimes the zero article is used. The zero article seems to prevail, though.

Is the article simply optional or are there some kind of restrictions on when you can use it?

The Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary:

The driver was taken to the hospital where he was reported to be in (a) good/stable/critical condition.

The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

a used car in perfect condition

The house is in a generally poor condition.

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  • I think the difference is made from the adverb that is present in one sentence and missing in the other one.
    – apaderno
    Apr 8 '13 at 8:34
  • Well, I can find lots of examples on google books where the phrase "in a poor condition" is used without any adverbs, e.g. Some flood defences remain in a poor condition
    – stillenat
    Apr 8 '13 at 9:17
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I think it depends on whether the speaker considers good (or stable, critical, or mint) to be an adjective describing condition, or the two-word phrase x condition to be an adjective phrase describing the object. In the former case, an article would be included; in the latter, it is omitted, even though a hyphen isn't being used:

John had a mint-condition 1954 Chevrolet.

So, even though your question asks about the article, it would be related to a question inquiring about the hyphen. In this case, I can find instances of both in print literature:

A mint condition card is flawless, with no nicks, cuts, stains, creases, scratches, or offcentering. (Collecting Basketball Cards: A Complete Guide with Prices, 2000)

A mint-condition baseball signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig sold at auction last year for more than $68,000. (Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Mar 2000)

If you're interested, you can read more about the very-vexing hyphenation convention problem at this ELU answer.

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  • So is the short answer, the article is optional? Because as seen from the examples I provided, this phrase can often be viewed as both adjective + noun and two-word phrase at the same time, without much difference in the actual meaning.
    – stillenat
    Apr 8 '13 at 11:55
  • I think that's the short answer, yes.
    – J.R.
    Apr 8 '13 at 13:57

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