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From Chemguide:

So, what is going wrong? The mistake is to look at only one part of a much more complicated process. The argument about atoms accepting electrons applies to isolated atoms in the gas state picking up electrons to make isolated ions - also in the gas state. That's not what we should be talking about.

Some time ago, I asked a similar question about "in infix form".

I quote from the answer:

Because "infix form" is a non-count noun phrase. That is, it's not a phrase that would make sense in the plurality, such as referring to "the infix forms". There is only one infix form, and it is what you will be writing the expression in.

Would the gas states make sense in the plurality? I think not. To me, it sounds like referring to "the countries that produce gas". So, going by the plurality argument from that answer, it should be "in gas state".

But "in gas state" sounds strange to me. Is it because "state" is inherently more "countable" than "form"?

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The choice of determiner communicates the speaker's thought or attitude at that moment with respect to the noun in question.

Liquid, liquidity. Solid, solidity. Gas, __________.

Molecules in the excited state are said to have high entropy.

Paraphrase: When molecules are in the state of excitement (as opposed to a state of non-excitement, not in some other state) they are said to have high energy.

Molecules in an excited state are said to have high entropy.

Paraphrase: Either a) Excitement is a matter of degree, so we can conceive of various states or gradations of excitement: low excitement, moderate excitement, high excitement or b) There are various kinds of states: sad, happy, excited, quiet, etc. When excited to some degree [or when they are in a state of "excitement", not in some other state] molecules are said to have higher entropy.

Molecules in <zero article> excited state are said to have high entropy.

Paraphrase: When excited, molecules are said to have high energy.

Water is in the liquid state above 0 degrees C.

Is in the state of liquidity, not in some other state, or not in one of the two other states.

Water is in a liquid state above 0 degrees C.

When water is liquid to a degree or not in some state other than liquid...

Water is in <zero article> liquid state above 0 degrees C.

Water is liquid above 0 degrees C.

Water is in the gas state above 100 degrees C.

You see, we cannot come up with an abstract noun ending in -ity here. Gasity?

Water is what we refer to as "gas", not something else, or not what we call "liquid" or "solid".

Water is in a gas state above 100 degrees C.

This is marginal. Water is to some degree gaseous, or water is not in some other state.

Water is in <zero article> gas state above 100 degrees C. This is also marginal.

Water is gas above 100 degrees C.

Why are these marginal?

The noun gas is being used adjectivally to modify abstract noun state. Adjectives ending in -id when modifying the noun state yield either themselves, redundantly (liquid state => liquid) or a periphrastic abstraction "in a state of liquidity" or "in a state of solidity". The same path is not open to us when we modify state (or similar abstract nouns, like effect) with a noun. Gas state => Gas, "in a state of gaseousness". -eousness and -idity are not quite the same.

*Butterfly effect.

P.S. The zero-article forms used here would be clumsy outside scientific register. We wouldn't say "in excited state" but "excited", or "in liquid state", but "liquid". The -id suffix already indicates state or condition. The -ed participle ending does the same.

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Matter only exists in only one of three states: solid, liquid, or gas

In your example

isolated atoms in the gas state picking up electrons

is referring to somethings when in a high energy (high entropy) state which is what allows the the interactions of electrons more easily.

This state is usually referred to simply as the noun: gas

Helium is a gas

or using the adjective

Saturn is a gaseous giant

Gas states would not make sense when since there is only one physical state of gas, however when referring to multiple gases it would be understood

Helium and Hydrogen are in their gas states

meaning each element is in their individual state, though

Helium and Hydrogen are in their gaseous state
Helium and Hydrogen are gases

would be better alternatives

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    "there is only one physical state of gas" sounds like the other answerer's "There is only one infix form, and it is what you will be writing the expression in." -- so why don't we say "in gas state" while we do say "in infix form"? – CowperKettle Feb 11 '16 at 7:57
  • Infix, postfix, prefix can be used as adjectives. Gas is a noun, gaseous is the adjective. Gas shows as an adjective in the dictionary but the examples I've seen are more slang. In gas state will sound odd as will in the gas state since there is only one gas state, in a gas state would be better but in a gaseous state is best. In the gas state of Oklahoma works but has a different meaning. Oklahoma produces natural gas as a by product of its oil drilling and fracking. – Peter Feb 11 '16 at 8:54
  • Frankly, I don't understand the relevance of "gas" being a noun or adjective. All nouns can function as adjectival nouns. – CowperKettle Feb 11 '16 at 8:58
  • There's syntax and then there's semantics. I've not heard in gas state used, but feel free to use it, people will probably understand what you mean – Peter Feb 11 '16 at 9:06
  • I don't use it, it sounds strange to me. I'd want to see an explanation exactly why it is "in the gas state" but "in pog form". I want to be able to explain it to another non-native speaker without resorting to "just memorize it". – CowperKettle Feb 11 '16 at 9:08

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