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I know that we need to put "a/an" or "the" in front of a
singular count noun. However, I also know that there
are lots of exceptions like:

"I go to school", "I come by bus", "I play football"

Apart from just memorizing all these exceptions, is
there a general rule that I can use to decide when
the article can be omitted? Thanks.
Comments  
' i go to school '

the ' the ' is not omitted. it is not there at all

to use ' the ' for school unless school is not for study but for other purposes.

eg. I planned to hold a meeting at ' the ' school this time..
Can I say that in "I go to school", school is in some sense
an uncount noun, just representing a state or activity?

But even so, there is still a lot of inconsistency in the use
of articles in English, e.g. Why do we say

"I play the piano" but "I play football"
"I go to the beach" but "I go to school"

What I'm interested in is the rule behind the selection
(with or without article), instead of having to memorize
every individual case.

Thanks.
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Can I say that in "I go to school", school is in some sense
an uncount noun, just representing a state or activity?


Yes, that's exactly what's happening. And this is really all you need to know to extrapolate your examples:

"I play the piano" is acceptable, but so is "I play piano". In fact, "I play piano" is better, because "I play the piano" is ambiguous - it might mean "I play that piano over there, but no other". (Unlikely, I know, but I thought I'd mention it).

"I go the the beach" is referring to a definite count noun. You could also have said "I'm going to a beach" if it wasn't clear which one. (An island, however big, can be said to have only one beach, which goes all the way round it).

Rommie
I am only asked to remember some words that don't take ' the ' Emotion: stick out tongue strange in my grammar book. Regarding ' the piano ', the ' the ' is not a must. So as rommie said it is perfect to say ' I play piano '. I asked an English professor before, he agreed with meEmotion: smile
What is correct

She can also play sitar and harp.'

or

she can also play a sitar and a harp.

or she can also play a sitar and harp.
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Hi Simon,

There is a short guide to omitting the article by the BBC World Service here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/youmeus/learnit/learnitv97.shtm