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Absence of the articles in set expressions


at dinner (breakfast, etc.) at first notice at first sight at night at table at war in search of in spite of      
by airmail by letter by telegram by air by car by land by plane by sea by ship (boat) by train by tram by tube by water out of date out of order out of place out of sight    
arm in arm day after day day by day hand in hand night after night night by night    
a kind of a sort of place, book, task, etc.  
by accident by chance by mistake by name by sight on account of on condition that  
to be in to go to   bed
from beginning to end from day to day from east to west from head to foot from morning to (till) night from side to side   in debt in demand in secret in sight in time   to be at to go to to come to to come from to leave     school, college, (the) university
to be at to leave to take to     hospital
to be at to go to   sea
in addition to in (on) behalf of in care of in case of in charge of in reference to   to be in to go to     church
to be at to put to     prison
to be in to be out of to go to     town
to ask (for) permission to catch (lose) sight of   to give offence (permission) to give way to   to keep house (to do housework) to keep time to lose touch with to lose track of to make fun of to make use of to pay attention to to set fire to to shake hands with to take care of to take notice of

In these set expressions nouns combine with prepositions or verbs and acquire a new shade of meaning, expressing an adverbial relation, a state or a process. Concrete count nouns lose their nominal meaning. Thus He isin bed may mean He is ill, or He is asleep, or He is not up. But we say: There were no chairs enough and we sat onthe bed.

My brother goesto school (college) means He learns there. However, if we mean the building or the institution, we use an article according to the general rules, as in: We shall meet atthe school. The school isn't far from our home. Ours is a verygood school. Parents are regularly invited tothe school.

The noun town without an article means the nearest big centre of population as contrasted to the country or a smaller town, it may also denote the central part of a big town, as opposed to its suburbs.

To be at sea may mean "far away from the land" or (figuratively) "to feel puzzled"; to go to sea is "to become a sailor". But we say: The swimmer jumped into the sea. We lived near the sea, etc.

No article is used as a rule when two notions, very closely related, are mentioned, as in:


They looked like mother and daughter.

We are no longer boy and girl.

It’s no use interfering into a quarrel between husband and wife.

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