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Question (copied from my accounting exercise book):

Lana Emerick handles cash receipts and has the authority to write off accounts receivable. This violates separation of (1)

A. custody (2) of assets from accounting.
B. operations from accounting
C. duties within the accounting function
D. authorization (3) of transactions from custody (4) of related assets.

1. How come there's no 'the' before 'separation'? Since 'separation' is a countable noun, 'a' or 'the' must be used in front of it, or we'll have to use 'separations'. I thought 'of' makes 'separation' definite

2. How come there's no 'the' before custody? Ok 'custody' is not countable, so we use either 'the' or nothing before it. But in the case, I thought 'of' makes custody definite, so why didn't they use 'the'?

3. The same for 'authorization', it's countable, and 'of' makes it definite

4. Again the same for 'custody'.

My explanations for the four cases above are what I have leanred about articles. I thought any countable noun must be modified with an article or used in its plural form rather than preceded by nothing. ie. "the University of blah blah", "the city of blah blah." "a friend of mine"; on the other hand, I thought any noncountable noun must be preceded with 'the' if it's followed by 'of'.

However, the case above proved me wrong, and I think I must have got it wrong somewhere. (unless the person who wrote this question was trying to be lazy) Emotion: wink

Teachers, please shed some light! Emotion: smile
Welcome to English Forums!

The circumstances under which articles are used or omitted in English are so subtle that it is probably impossible to formulate all of them within a system of rules. The definite article is often omitted in a way that you might find unexpected when, in effect, words are left out.

Recall that names do not take the definite article. In the cases you cite, the words without the definite articles are very much like names.

This violates (the principle called/named) ['separation of custody ...' / 'separation of authorization'].

"of" does not make any word definite, by the way. Used in the way shown in your examples, the "of" phrase modifies the noun, telling what kind of separation is meant. Sometimes a compound noun is formed as an alternate way of saying the same thing: 'custody separation', 'authorization separation'. In this case the compound nouns sound awkward and the author has chosen to use the "of" phrasing instead.

As you develop an instinct for English, you will be able to use or omit the articles as necessary without analyzing the pattern for every possible rule that must be obeyed. In the meantime, just realize that, unfortunately, the rules given in your textbooks do not necessarily allow you to choose the correct usage 100% of the time.

You need the "the" in your example.

Which city? The city of Toronto. On the other hand, you could say simply "I live in Toronto" with no article, because it's a place name.
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Thanks for your great explanations, CJ! And you are absolutely right that I should try using "the" by instinct rather than by analyzing patterns in a sentence since that would make "the" meaningless for me.

So how would you interpret the sentences below if "the" is misused:

I live in city of Toronto.

Do you know what I mean here without "the"? By saying "the city of Toronto", what does "the" do here? Does it make "city" definite or "city of Toronto" definite?
 BarbaraPA's reply was promoted to an answer.
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I'm not sure that "the" does anything! That is, it is simply a requirement in that expression. You are right that the indicates definiteness. Here it makes city definite; as a proper noun Toronto has no need to be made definite because it already is definite.
The fact that "city" is a concrete noun and the fact that "separation" and "custody" are abstract nouns certainly enter into the equation. Abstract nouns are more likely to be used without articles.

This is simply a pattern that needs to be used.

the [city / town / village / state / province ...] of [name of city, town, etc.]

In other words, that particular (definite) city / town / ... named [name of city, town, etc.].