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The functional-stylistic omission of the article


As has been mentioned before, the absence of the article may be meaningful, which is commonly referred to as the zero article. It is a specific categorial form of the noun which points to its most abstract meaning. However, the absence of the article may have nothing to do with abstraction or conceptual opposition: both common and proper nouns may be used without any article for functional-stylistic purposes, i.e. to indicate a particular register or functional style. In the present book instances of this kind are describes as functional-stylistic omissions of the articles. [23]

First and foremost, the articles are deliberately omitted in block language, i.e. in newspaper headlines, notices, etc., the idea being to remove all but the most informative words. Compare the headline and the text to follow:




America will claim a free hand in targeting states linked to terrorism regardless of international opposition, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary, said yesterday.




A professionalwine taster, who owned a chateau in France, drank himself to death while living a double life as a tramp, an inquest heard yesterday.


Similarly, the articles may be absent in informal writing, such as a short note or letter for the sake of brevity. Compare:


We’re exhausted, they said, we’re just going to come to you and collapse. Oh, and can you be a darling and do us a Caesar salad for Boxing Day, and there will be dates and grapes and a prune stuffing for the goose, won’t there?

She went upstairs and when she came down she was carrying a suitcase in one hand and a letter in the other. The letter she placed upon the kitchen table. It said: ‘To make soup, chop vegetables for many hours. For cake – mix, whip, etc., until exhausted. Ingredients for crab mousse and Caesar salad andprune stuffing and elaborate dessert in fridge.’ (P. Lively)


The omission of the articles is not confined to block language and informal writing. It may be regarded as a characteristic feature of literary style at large.

It has already been pointed out that the absence of the articles is often to be observed in parallel structures which may be of two types. On the one hand, they comprise nouns used in the most generalized sense, thus the absence of the article is meaningful. On the other hand, the articles may be omitted for purely stylistic reasons, when the meaning of the nouns in question does not differ from their classified or individualized uses, i.e. with the indefinite or the definite articles. (See §§ 3, 5)For example:


I wonder how many years I’ll get? Will I be allowed pen and paper? (F. Weldon)

Bernard reversed straight out of the new garage into the road and hit a passing van. Car and van were written off though no one was hurt. But Bernard fainted so she took him into casualty. (F. Weldon)

He was frowning at his newspaper, pinching the bridge of his nose, as a man will sometimes do when he is tired and trying to think. As Pete watched, he squeezed his eyes tightly shut and rubbed them with thumb and forefinger. (M. Gunther)


As follows from the above illustrations, one can hardly see any conceptual opposition of the referents; so the zero article is not meaningful but purely stylistic: it is meant to make the description vivid and laconic, stripped of all but information-bearing forms. The omission of the article as a functional-stylistic device is a typical feature of the written language, which helps the author create all kinds of effects. For instance, in the extract below, the omission of the articles draws the reader’s attention to the scene and adds to the humorous effect produced by the categorematic words:


I pressed the bell, and presently in shimmered Jeeves, complete with tea-tray andpreceded by dog, which leaped upon the bed, licked me smartly in the right eye, and immediately curled up and fell into a deep slumber. (P.G. Wodehouse)


A similar situation can be observed, when common concrete class nouns, normally determined by the indefinite and definite articles, find themselves in a specific syntactic structure, namely the Nominative Absolute Construction, as part of a predicative. [24] It is always quite clear what determiner (the articles or a pronoun) is missing:


And cigar in his mouth, old Jolyon said: “Play me some Chopin.”

Crouching, hand round knees, she turned her face to get the warmth of the sun. (J. Galsworthy)

Dalgliesh waited patiently,metal rod in hand, while the doctor sat in silence, the code book open before him. (P.D. James)

Then she waited in the record-room for her victim, fetish in hand and chisel inher uniform pocket. (P.D. James)

The youth fell silent for a moment, chin on chest, his eyes fixed on the grey road ahead of them. (F. King)

The use of the Nominative Absolute is a characteristic feature of literary speech in general, and the omission of the articles before nouns often observed in it is most appropriate when the author seeks to be highly expressive. A short story by Jack Finner, an American writer, where the pattern is used in great abundance, is a case in point.

The story opens with a young man by the name of Tom Benecke, a manager in a company, who refused to go out to the movie with his wife, for he had conceived an ambitious project and was anxious to think it over and present it to his boss as soon as possible. He saw his wife to the door, kissed her goodbye and returned to the living room. There he got a shock when he found that the sheet of paper with the most important data he had been collecting for two months had been drawn out of the window by the breeze. It slid along the stone ledge and was stopped by the projecting blank wall of the next apartment: “It lay motionless, then, in the corner formed by the two walls – a good five yards away, pressed firmly against the ornate corner ornament of the ledge.” As the sheet was beyond his reach, Tom made up his mind to get it back in danger of falling down from the eleventh floor. From that moment on, the narrative is most detailed and dramatic, the reader being kept in suspense. Many times Tom was about to fall off, balancing on the narrow window ledge. Yet he survived and even succeeded in picking up his paper. Here are the extracts to show what traumatic experience the character came through:


Eyes squeezed shut, he watched scenes in his mind like scraps of motion-picture film – he couldn’t stop them. He saw himself stumbling suddenly sideways as he crept along the ledge and saw his upper body arc outward, arms flailing.


A fraction of his mind knew he was going to fall, and he began taking rapid blind steps with no feeling what he was doing, sidling with a clumsy desperate swiftness, fingers scrabbling along the brick, almost hopelessly resigned to the sudden backward pull, and swift motion outward and down. Then his moving left hand slid onto not brick but sheer emptiness, and impossible gap in the face of the wall, and he stumbled.


For a single moment he knelt, knee, bones against stone on the very edge of the ledge, body swaying and touching nowhere else, fighting for balance.


Elbows slowly bending, he began to draw the full weight of his upper body forward, knowing that the instant his fingers slipped off theses quarter-inch strips he’d plunge backward and be falling. Elbows imperceptibly bending, body shaking with the strain, the sweat starting from his forehead in great sudden drops, he pulled, his entire being and thought concentrated in his finger tips.



He waited, arm drawn back, fist balled, but in no hurry to strike; this pause, he knew, might be an extension of his life. (J. Finney)


The above illustrations convincingly show how expressive the Nominative Absolute structures may be, and once the key elements are nouns, the omission of the article, too, is stylistically significant. Undoubtedly, this device adds to the expressive potential of nouns.

It should be noted, however, that in the case of a limiting attribute to the subject (of the Nominative Absolute) the omission of the article is not possible. Compare the following examples illustrating the use of finger tips:


It would be four hours before she (Clair) could possibly be home, and he tried to picture himself kneeling out here, finger tips hooked to these narrow strippings, while first one movie, preceded by a slow listing of credits, began, developed, reached its climax and then finally ended.


Very carefully observing his balance, the finger tips of his left hand again hooked to the narrow stripping of the window casing, he drew back his right hand, palm facing theglass, and then struck the glass with the heel of his hand.


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