When do we use a singular noun on its own without an article?

Which article should be placed in the following case:

My father is reading a newspaper.


My father is reading the newspaper.


My father is reading newspaper.

In this case my father is reading the same newspaper he reads daily.


2 Answers 2


If you know which newspaper he is reading (it is the same newspaper every day) you can use the definite article. The newspaper is defined:

My father is reading the newspaper.

If you do not have a particular newspaper in mind, you are just announcing that he is in the process of reading and it is a newspaper (and not a book for example), then you can use the indefinite article:

My father is reading a newspaper.

The last sentence is not correct because "newspaper" is a singular countable noun and it needs to be preceded by an article (or a possessive adjective - my, your, etc.)

A singular noun on its own is used without an article for example when it is uncountable: My father is drinking milk.

  • No, this is not correct. Household items such as the phone, the door, ... the newspaper can refer to one of many such items, even when we are not designating which exact one. My father is reading the newspaper does not mean he is reading the newspaper he always/usually reads, it just means any newspaper.
    – GoDucks
    Jan 8, 2016 at 3:07
  • @GoDucks They are used with "the" because they are either familiar or the same. "Someone's at the door." would of course mean 'the front door', which is only one. It's similar with "Answer the phone!". In the newspaper case, it could be a different newspaper if it is a regular activity, say he reads the newspaper every Saturday. So what is he doing now? He is reading his Saturday newspaper. Still, more familiar than "a newspaper". It comes down to the difference between definite and indefinite article.
    – fluffy
    Jan 24, 2016 at 10:35

My explanation is:

  • My father is reading a newspaper ( an unknown, unspecific, indefinite newspaper)

  • My father is reading the newspaper.

It's "the", and singular, because it would be like implying the newspaper he receives any morning.
It means any newspaper. The newspapers in general.


( A specific one, already known/discussed one,)

  • Newspaper is a good source of information. ( without article it is 'generic use' ...means 'newspapers'.
  • 1
    No. the newspaper is idiomatic in English; it just means he is reading any newspaper.
    – GoDucks
    Jan 8, 2016 at 3:08
  • @GoDucks It also could mean He reads a specific newspaper, the user is right, but didn't include the most obvious meaning "a newspaper in general.
    – Quidam
    Oct 23, 2019 at 10:35
  • @GoDucks I edited the answer (we'll see if it's accepted), because the answer wasn't wrong, but simply incomplete.
    – Quidam
    Oct 23, 2019 at 15:19

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