When talking about terms it should be with article (a/an) before the term? For example:

1 What is an urticaria?


2 What is urticaria?


  • 1
    Note, because urticaria begins with a vowel sound, you would use an urticaria. Except that since it is an uncountable or mass noun, you would usually not use the indefinite article before it. – user6951 Apr 12 '15 at 4:22
  • 3
    If you say "What does urticaria mean?", then you don't need an article even if it is a count noun. – snailplane Apr 12 '15 at 6:00

If you have never heard the word urticaria, you simply ask: What is urticaria. It is totally irrelevant whether it is a mass noun or not, or a term or not. You don't know the word, so you don't know what kind of word it is.


It depends on the word you are asking about.

You would not use an article if you are asking about

  • A mass noun

    "What is spaghetti?"

  • A proper noun, or a name.

    "What is 'The New York Times'?"

  • A plural noun.

    "What are fish?" or "What is a fish?"

In every other context, you would use an article.

As for the example you gave, "urticaria" is a mass noun, so you should say:

"What is urticaria?"

  • Urticaria would be "What is urticaria". It's an ailment and is singular. Even "hives", though plural sounding, should get the singular. See the first sentence of the Wikipedia article: "Urticaria [...] commonly referred to as hives, is a kind of skin rash notable for pale red, raised, itchy bumps." – Catija Apr 12 '15 at 5:23
  • Oh, okay, I will edit that in. – James Apr 12 '15 at 5:31
  • @Catija Some dictionaries call hives a 'plural noun' while others just say it can take either a singular or plural verb. See Free Dictionary and One Look – user6951 Apr 12 '15 at 13:58
  • Thank you. What is "mass noun"? – Judicious Allure Apr 12 '15 at 18:13
  • There is a link in my answer. A mass noun is any noun that you can't count, for example water, or grass. You cannot say "I have three water" – James Apr 12 '15 at 18:15

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