Appendix:English nouns with restricted non-referential interpretation in bare noun phrases

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Certain English nouns can be used as head of noun phrases anarthrously, ie, without a determiner or article, in a use which can give them a distinct meaning.

Role nouns[edit]

Nouns that indicate a role can optionally appear without determiner or article as object of certain prepositions following nouns like role, part, position and as complement of certain verbs (eg, be, become, appoint, elect); but not as subjects or objects. The same nouns can also appear with determiner or article with the same meaning.

He played the part of tough guy in the negotiation.
*Tough guy was involved in the negotiation.
He became Underassistant West Coast Promo Man for the record company.
*The record company fired Underassistant West Coast Promo Man.
She served as president for two terms.
*President served for two terms.

Certain everyday frames[edit]

Certain activity-locations, indications of status, means of transport, media of communication, meals, times, and repeated and matched nouns cannot accept determiners in certain uses. The meaning of some of the words is subtly different from its meaning when it can be used with an article or determiner. In other cases, the word appears in a fixed expression, often with idiomatic meaning.

Prepositional phrases provide a way of searching for such usages. The variety of prepositions is large:

temporal: before, during, after, at, by, until
spatial: in, into, on, to, from, out of, up, down, at
status: in, on, off, under, at


This is a realm that seems to productively generate prepositional phrases that are idioms and near-idioms. The most clearcut cases are those where only one prepositional phrase contains a sense of the noun that does not appear to occur as bare noun in any other prepositional phrase, let alone as subject, object or predicate. A somewhat weaker case exists for senses that occur with a small number of prepositions. In addition, there seem to be cases where a novel metaphorical or purely idiomatic interpretation has arisen that does not fall within the other classes discussed below.


Status indications[edit]

Not all of these are true status indicators. The prepositional phrases may not be uses of a status-indicator sense of the word.

Many words can be used as indicating a kind of status in some contexts. The US military provides many examples: in country; with leave/without leave; on station. Law also provides them, as well as sports.




with by
with on


with around
with at
with beside
with by
with in
with via

Dummy pronoun[edit]

with a dummy pronoun, and related expressions

True idioms and metaphorical use[edit]

  • on air (happily, gracefully)