busy with screw-driver and spanner

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Senior Member
Ukrainian & Russian
A young Beta-Minus mechanic was busy with screw-driver and spanner on the blood-surrogate pump of a passing bottle.
(Brave New World; A.Huxley)

Would you be so kind as to explain to me why there is no determiner before 'screw-driver' at least?

  • natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I'm not sure I can explain it well, but let me have a go.

    If you've got a prepositional phrase that really elaborates on the activity and you're not really thinking of specific items, the article is not used. We get this with means of transport - going by train, by tram, by car. Here, 'with screw-driver and spanner' tells us how the mechanic was busy. So this is with reference to the use of implements. You can also go that someone set upon the garden with fork and spade, or someone building something with nail and hammer - also no article. For some reason this seems to work with a pair of implements.


    Senior Member
    English - British
    We would typically say on the one hand 'We eat our food with knives and forks' and on the other 'He took his place at the table and set to with knife and fork'.

    No determiner is needed, because those are the tools for the job: you would not do it with anything else and no question of number, ownership or anything else comes into consideration.
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