If I want to write a question like,

What does "*" mean to you?

can I write the word without any articles?

For example, should I write

"What does "an old friend" mean to you?" or, is it okay if I write "What does "old friend" mean to you?"

I'm confused with this because there are more search results with "what does "opportunity" mean to you" than "what does "an opportunity" for you," while "what does "a promise" mean to you" has more results than "what does "promise" mean to you."

I'd appreciate it if somebody could explain this for me.

Thank you!

1 Answer 1


Adding articles before a noun, specifically "an" or "and" means that the noun is currently not known to the subject (in this case the reader). If you omit the article it can have subtle differences to the understanding of a noun in some cases.

What does "old friend" mean to you?

Here you are asking the subject what their conceptual understanding of the phrase "old friend" are.

What does "an old friend" mean to you?

Here, with the article, you are asking the reader to reference their understanding of any one of their old friends as well as the conceptual meaning of the adjective + noun.

The same can be seen if you omit the adjective.

What does "friend" mean to you

In this case it becomes clearer that you are specifically asking for the definition of the word.

What does "a friend" mean to you

With the article, the subject now has a reference to one of their friends and may give a different answer than just a definition, although a definition is still a valid answer.


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