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when do you not use an article?

- Investigators were looking at control system failure as the most likely cause of the crash, said Ilham Amirov, deputy chief of the state-controlled Azerbaijani Airlines.

-However, local television stations reported that wreckage was spread over an area about a mile wide, a pattern that could indicate an explosion.

-Some wreckage was in water about 6 to 10 feet from shore.

here
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Investigators were looking at control system failure as the most likely cause of the crash, said Ilham Amirov, deputy chief of the state-controlled Azerbaijani Airlines.
"Failure" is an uncountable noun. We could modify it with THE if it is already defined. But the sentence here suggests the investigators seem still not to have determined what kind of control system failure it was actually. "Deputy chief" is a countable noun but it is used as a title appositive to Ilham Amirov.
However, local television stations reported that wreckage was spread over an area about a mile wide, a pattern that could indicate an explosion. Some wreckage was in water about 6 to 10 feet from shore.
"Wreckage" is an uncountable noun to refer collectively to remains of a wrecked ship. The reason that it is used here without THE may be because the amount of the wreckage remained still to be defined. "Shore" can be either countable or uncountable. I take "X miles/feet from shore" as kind of idiomatic phrase.

paco
I doubt that anyone has a comprehensive list of when not to use an article with all the many situations where the absence of the article is required.

It seems to me that this is one of those things that comes to the learner very late in his experiences in English. You are likely to do just as well (or better) by reading a lot and imitating what you read when you write or speak (in terms of when to use certain articles or not), compared to trying to memorize hundreds of rules on the subject.

CJ
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
The most puzzling "zero article" to Chinese students:

Taiwan is/is not/should be/shouldn't be part of China. (Most Chinese students want to put an a in front of part)

Articles are frustrating to me too, esp. in cases like these. I read and read and read to get a feel for when to not use an article, and that helps, but I still occasionally get them wrong
CalifJimI doubt that anyone has a comprehensive list of when not to use an article with all the many situations where the absence of the article is required.It seems to me that this is one of those things that comes to the learner very late in his experiences in English. You are likely to do just as well (or better) by reading a lot and imitating what you read when you write or speak (in terms of when to use certain articles or not), compared to trying to memorize hundreds of rules on the subject.

"Why are Articles So Difficult?"

One reason English articles present so much difficulty to ESL/EFL (English as a second/foreign language) students is the vastness and complexity of the rules and exceptions governing article usage. Cromwell (1964: 38) writes, "Every student of English has my sympathy in his struggles with the articles 'a,' 'an,' and 'the.'" then goes on to detail 16 pages of rules and exceptions. In one ESL text, Robinson (1967) lists 44 separate rules. Quirk, et al. (1985) go even further, spending 32 pages on article usage.

In addition to the many rules and exceptions of the English article system, the Japanese student of English is also burdened by the fact that there is no grammatical equivalent to articles in her own native language. In an analytical study of structural errors found in 632 English compositions written by Japanese students in American high schools and junior colleges, Kimizuka (1967) found more mistakes in article usage than in any other structural category. Kimizuka (1967: 78-79) explains this phenomenon:

Japanese has no part of speech equivalent of English articles. That article usage constitutes one of the greatest problems for the Japanese learner is vividly revealed in the high frequency of mistakes, the highest of all the structural items. The Japanese student must not only learn the numerous rules for the usage with as many exceptions, but he must also practice them by drill. It is comparatively simple to learn the rules, but it is not equally simple to apply the rules to actual situations.

With such seemingly impossible barriers to overcome, what are teachers of Japanese students to do? For starters, we must reevaluate the methods we have been using to teach article usage, as well as what activities we have been using to give students practice in production of articles. To do this, we first must have an awareness of what kind of knowledge the students possess, what their learning habits are, and what their motivation level is."

[URL=http://www2.gol.com/users/norris/a-the.html]Robert Norris[/URL]
You're right, Paco and Jim. Intermediate learners tend to either omit articles all together or put one in where one isn't required. Takes years to understand when not to put in an article (or at least to me, smarter folks may take less time).
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
Hi,

In regard to the partial sentence below, you said the determiner "the" has not been used since the amount of the wreckage is??? remained still to be identified. Ok, but with all due respect, you and I know that when we are watching the report, we know automatically that we are talking about "the wreckage" without anyone mentioning the specific nature of it (wreckage). I believe one of the rules for the placement of article allows for such a use.

However, local television stations reported that wreckage was spread over ...
Hi,

In regard to the partial sentence below, you said the determiner "the" has not been used since the amount of the wreckage is??? remained still to be identified. Ok, but with all due respect, you and I know that when we are watching the report, we know automatically that we are talking about "the wreckage" without anyone mentioning the specific nature of it (wreckage). I believe one of the rules for the placement of article allows for such a use.

However, local television stations reported that wreckage was spread over ...

The amount of wreckage is irrelevant to whether an article is used here.

reported that wreckage This leaves open the possibility (however remote) that the wreckage may be from some other accident. Are you 100% positive that it was all from the plane in question? No other plane ever crashed in that area? Accident investigators usually take some time before they announce their conclusions.

reported that the wreckage This specifies that the wreckage was from the plane in question.

Best wishes, Clive
-However, local television stations reported that the wreckage was spread over an area about a mile wide, a pattern that could indicate an explosion.
-Some wreckage was in the water about 6 to 10 feet from the shore.
Had the definite article been inserted into these two sentences, would anyone find the usage strange?

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