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Reasons for omitting articles


Hemmingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” starts with this sentence:

/Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton./

Why is there no article before /champion/? Does it sound alright to a native speaker? This is not the first time I see Hemingway omitting articles here and there and I can’t get my head around it. 🤔


  • As a general rule, @apsttesc ,

    • the champion refers to one unique champion
    • a champion refers to one of a number of champions

    So we would expect
    the middleweight boxing champion of Princeton
    — in this case the only current champion of the middleweight division of boxing at Princeton
    — in this case 'current' not right now, but at a time in the past referred to as once

    In the Hemmingway sentence, it's not so much that there is 'no article' as that the definite article the has been omitted.
    Failure to use an article does not make the sentence ambiguous. We know that Hemmingway is referring to a unique individual because
    — there can only be one champion at a time
    — the word once shows that he is not being considered along with other champions at aother times

    This lack of ambiguity is necessary but not sufficient.
    The necessary condition for sentences like this to be acceptable seems to be not gtrammatical but a feeling that the noun phrase is a sort of title.
    In this case, it would not be completely strange to punctuate it as Middleweight Boxing Champion of Princeton. But such capitals are not Hemmingway's style.

    So we can paraphrase the sentence as
    Robert Cohn once enjoyed the title Middleweight Boxing Champion of Princeton.

    More often, the construction is used with the sense 'acquired the title'.

    • He was elected President of ...
    • She was proclaimed Queen of ...
    • He was appointed Production Manager.

    These are all PASSIVE sentences. It's possible, but I think less likely, to use the construction in ACTIVE sentences:
    They elected him President etc

    It's even possible, though rare to use it with a noun denoting an INANIMATE thing.
    The model was voted Car of the Year.

    Sentences like Hmmingway's with BE + (the) TITLE are, I think, less common than those with ACQUIRE + (the) TITLE. And they're only possible when there is a clear sense of unique at the time — either explicit as in Hemmingway's word once or impolicit from the context.

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