The question of whether an article should be omitted seems to be quite complicated and subject to numerous conventions.

Moreover, it appears that there are acceptable variations: e.g., both

The electric dipole moment has a magnitude p=qd.


The electric dipole moment has magnitude p=qd.

may be correct or, at least, acceptable. (The latter variant was suggested to me, in a similar case, by a professional editor.)

Unfortunately, style manuals, such as The Chicago Manual of Style and New Oxford Style Manual, offer little guidance on this topic.

Does a comprehensive, authoritative, and/or detailed reference for the zero article exist?

  • 4
    By the way, I answered a related question on our sister site some time ago. It contains a reference regarding the zero and null articles that might be of some interest to you.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 14:56
  • We can try this here on Meta, as a request for resources that talk about usage or lack thereof of articles.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 12:03

1 Answer 1


I am simply a vehicle for getting some enlightening but ephemeral comments into an answer. This is all thanks to the incomparable Edwin.

Actually, it's far from trivial to decide between the definite article the and an indefinite article a/an. For example: 'A/the boomslang is certainly not a snake one would want to be bitten by.'

There is a 100+ page monograph by Collins Cobuild dealing solely with the usages of the articles (including the zero article). And it is far from comprehensive. One largely has to rely on examples in well-written sources.

The Cobuild monograph is the best treatment I've [Edwin has] found, but doesn't even mention the (infrequent) use of 'a' with non-count nouns (A subtle light filtered through the leaves), for instance.

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