Can several nouns share one article?

I have been taught since middle school that "a/the singer and dancer" means one person, and the article cannot be shared among several nouns if the writer wishes to mean different things by these nouns.

However, I have recently become aware of an awkward situation. In this sentence:

He told the police the name, age, height, and address of the serial killer.

How come such use of "the" is acceptable in this structure? Could anyone explain in detail when I can use "the" before several nouns, when the nouns point to different ideas/things?
 
  • Yes, it is entirely common in English to use articles this way.

    Headwaiter: Place a knife, fork, and spoon next to each plate.
    Trainee: Where do they go?
    Headwaiter: The knives and spoons go on the right, while the forks go on the left.
     
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    Does that mean the "a/the singer and dancer" expression is an exceptional case in the use of article? In mainland China it appears almost in every exam, so I am looking forward to more details to resolve my doubts.
     

    Mr_Antares

    Senior Member
    US English
    Yes, "a singer and dancer" would usually be one person.

    However, "a knife, fork and spoon" refers to three objects. It is equally correct to say "a knife, a fork and a spoon", so the number of articles does NOT always tell you the number of items.
     
    The more I think about it, it seems to me that it is very, very common to share definite articles when speaking of plurals:

    We are proud of the men and women who serve in our army.

    The towels, washcloths, and bathmats are kept in this closet, while the sheets, blankets, and bedspreads go in the other closet.

    Note that it would also be entirely common to drop the article altogether: Towels, washcloths, and bathmats are kept here, while sheets, blankets, and bedspreads go there,
     
    Sorry I didn't make my points clear enough. I'll give a few examples:

    He told the police the name, age, height, and address of the serial killer. ("the" is shared by "name", "age", "height" and "address")

    Turn on the TV and the computer. ("the" is not shared by "TV" and "computer")

    The server and client are in different subnets.( Is it better to say "the server and the client"?)

    So my question is, when there are two or more nouns, should I use one article before them, or simply use one article? Or does it depend on the actual situation?
     

    Mr_Antares

    Senior Member
    US English
    the answer is that it depends.

    "Turn on the TV and computer" sounds just as natural as "Turn on the TV and the Computer".

    There are many situations (GWB points out several of them) where the additional articles are technically correct, but usually omitted in normal usage.
     
    Many thanks! This helps a lot. I am coming to something. I guess in the following two cases nouns can share one article:
    1. the nouns share a common attribute
    2. the nouns are in the plural forms or are uncountable

    For example:

    The database server and client... (the common attribute is "database")
    Turn on the TV and computer of David's. (the common attribute is "David's".
    We are proud of the men and women who serve in our army.(the common attribute is "who serve in our army".
    The oil, flour and rice ....(uncountable nouns)


    The more I think about it, it seems to me that it is very, very common to share definite articles when speaking of plurals:

    We are proud of the men and women who serve in our army.

    The towels, washcloths, and bathmats are kept in this closet, while the sheets, blankets, and bedspreads go in the other closet.

    Note that it would also be entirely common to drop the article altogether: Towels, washcloths, and bathmats are kept here, while sheets, blankets, and bedspreads go there,
     

    agway

    Member
    english
    You don't need to repeat article when nouns run one after another. Yes, the nouns in your examples can share one article placed before the first noun.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    No, the nouns do not have to share a common attribute or be plural or uncountable. (Look again at post #2.)

    Here is my theory:

    Sharing a determiner is only a problem if the noun phrases can refer to the same person(s) or thing(s) but the speaker or writer means for them not to.

    If the noun phrases cannot refer to the same person(s) or thing(s), they can share an article. For example, a knife cannot be a spoon, so "a knife and spoon" is two things. If the nouns do refer to the same person(s) or thing(s), they can share an article. For example, a singer who is a dancer can be "a singer and dancer".

    If the overall meaning is no different whether they do or do not refer to the same person(s) or thing(s), they can share an article. For example, in "Give each singer or dancer a knife, fork, and spoon", the meaning is the same whether or not a singer and a dancer are one person.

    However, if they can refer to the same person(s) or thing(s), but do not, and it does make a difference whether they do or do not, then the noun phrases require separate determiners.

    I hope this makes sense.
     
    As Forero points out, in post 2 I tried to give examples of both definite and indefinite articles being used, and both the singular and the plural. My comment in post 5 was not that only plural nouns share articles, but that (in contradiction to what you had originally thought) it was not at all uncommon for them to share an article.
     

    Infininja

    Senior Member
    American English
    Turn on the TV and computer of David's. (the common attribute is "David's".

    It would be much more common to say Turn on David's TV and computer. Obviously that would omit both articles.

    (Even using the original order, I think the possessive 's on David should be dropped. Still, people don't normally talk like this.)
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Just wanted to say I agree with Forero that the explanation is probably less complicated than fishmacau's.

    (1) It is always possible to repeat the articles.
    (2) In the interest of brevity, snappiness, etc. speakers do not repeat the article - unless doing so will result in some misunderstanding (eg that the nouns are co-referential).

    So, in Three Men in a Tub:

    Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub,
    And who do you think they be?
    The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.
     

    diamant

    Member
    English, India
    I've searched the Internet, but couldn't find much... What article should one use when there's one modifier followed by a list of nouns (plural and singular)? For example, in this clause, "...with efficient organization, tools, and skills.", what article would you use or would you omit the article altogether? Thanks.
     
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    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    I've searched the Internet, but couldn't find much... What article should one use when there's one modifier followed by a list of nouns (plural and singular)? For example, in this clause, "...with efficient organization, tools, and skills.", what article would you use or would you omit the article altogether? Thanks.

    I think you're referring to tools and skills in general. If so, they don't need any article-- using one would be a mistake. But we can't be 100% sure until you provide an example sentence with some context.
     

    RATIUG

    New Member
    Chinese - Cantonese
    My following comprehensive reply may have come 10 years too late.

    This is all about the usage of the conjunction “and” as it relates to not only the articles “a/an/the” but also other determiners such as “these” and “her”, as well as prepositions in common, where these determiners and prepositions are often allowed to be shared as a functional convenience of using “and”, although it is still grammatically correct and maybe sounding equally natural not to have them so shared.

    Example one using “and” with the determiner “these” in alternative styles:
    1a) These determiners are often allowed to be shared.
    1b) These prepositions are (also) often allowed to be shared.
    1c) These determiners and prepositions are often allowed to be shared.
    1d) These determiners and these prepositions are often allowed to be shared.

    Note 1: Using “these” twice as in 1d) is found especially in conversations involving pauses:
    “These determiners, and these prepositions, are often allowed to be shared.”

    Example two using “and” with the determiner “her” in alternative styles:
    2a) Mary killed her father.
    2b) Mary killed (also) her grandfather.
    2c) Mary killed her father and grandfather.
    2d) Mary killed her father and her grandfather.

    Note 2: Using “her” twice as in 2d) is in fact preferred if the conjunction “both...and” is used instead:
    “Mary killed both her father and her grandfather.”

    Example three using “and” with the article “a” in alternative styles:
    3a) Tommy is a father.
    3b) Tommy is (also) a grandfather.
    3c) Tommy is a father and grandfather.
    3d) Tommy is a father and a grandfather.

    Note 3: Contrary to the belief that 3c) is the only correct usage if two nouns are meant to refer to the same person (or object), we have also seen “a” being used twice as in 3d), which sounds equally natural, such as in some online accounts of what happened to Tommy Connolly. This latter usage may cause confusion between co-reference and multi-referential situations, but often the context should provide the needed distinction.

    Example four using “and” with the preposition “in” and the article “the” in alternative styles:
    4a) There are mosquitos in the house.
    4b) There are mosquitos (also) in the garden.
    4c) There are mosquitos in the house and garden.
    4d) There are mosquitos in the house and in the garden.

    Note 4: If one finds 4d) to be redundant, then how about the following example, similar to 4d) not in its structure but in its redundancy, where linguistic style undermines the consideration of rules:
    “He went out, and looked around, and rushed down the path, and disappeared in no time.”

    END
     
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