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I think it's okay to say "I study [subject] at the University of [City] ". However, should I say

I'm a physics student at ...

or without 'a',

I'm physics student at ...

I'm suddenly terribly unsure which one is correct, so maybe you lot can help.

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  • Take out the word 'physics'. Would you say "I am [a] student at ..."? You might find more help on our sister site English Language Learners. – TrevorD Jul 27 '13 at 0:13
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    This question appears would be better asked on ELL. – TrevorD Jul 27 '13 at 0:18
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    Predicate nouns that are count nouns (like student, but not like rice) require an indefinite article (a/an). Thus, I am a student, but This is rice. – John Lawler Jul 27 '13 at 0:34
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"I'm suddenly terribly unsure which one is correct, so maybe you lot can help.".

It all depends on the noun you use.

First, let's look at your first example:

"I study [subject] at the University of [City]".

or

"I study physics at the University of Miami."

In this sentence, "physics" is an uncountable noun (or noncount noun). That means it cannot be counted.

We cannot say, "1 physics, 2 physics, 3 physics."

Uncountable nouns do not require an indefinite article.

For example:

  • Please buy sugar. (Incorrect: Please buy a sugar.)
  • Love is blind. (Incorrect: A love is blind.)
  • I like coffee. (Incorrect: I like a coffee.)

See more examples of uncountable nouns here: Uncountable Nouns

Now, your second example:

"I'm a physics student at the University of Miami."

In this case, "physics" is not a noun. It is actually an adjective that tells us what kind of student.

So, we look to the noun "student". "Student" is a countable noun (or count noun). That means it can be counted. We can say, "1 student, 2 students, 3 students."

Countable nouns do require an article (such as an indefinite article "a" or "an" or the definite article "the"), a quantitity word (some, three, many), or a possessive adjective (my, our, their).

For example:

  • I saw a mouse. (indefinite article)
  • Did you see the show? (definite article)
  • He needs three books. (quantity word)
  • That is my house. (possessive adjective)
  • That is my red house. (This one has an adjective before the noun, like your example)

Read more about countable nouns here: Countable Nouns

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  • But you can say "I am student" without article. There's more to the story than countable/uncountable. – Theta30 Jul 28 '13 at 0:45
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    No, I would never say, "I am student." I might say, "I am A student." But, I can't think of any instance when someone would say, "I am student." If there is more to this question than countable/uncountable noun, then please explain in context. I would be happy to look at other explanations. – KansasTeacher Jul 28 '13 at 7:39
  • Google N-grams supports what you say. Maybe I was under false impression all the time. – Theta30 Jul 28 '13 at 9:34

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