Parts of Speech: The article

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We always talk about the 8 parts of speech, but in reality, there are 9 parts of speech. The 9th part of speech is the article: the or a (an). I don’t know why we always say 8 parts of speech when there are 9. Perhaps it’s because some languages don’t use articles. Mastering the use of articles seems to be particularly tricky for people whose first language is Chinese or Russian.

 

One of my east Asian clients asked the following question:

I have a question on the reason why a definite article is not used when it would be reasonable in a sequence of the following sentences, which I came across when reading a paperback copy of Michael J. Sandel’s “JUSTICE” published by Penguin Books in 2010.

1. (Page 85, line 3-5) Consider another civic responsibility—jury duty. No one dies performing jury duty, but being called to serve on a jury can be onerous, especially if it conflicts with work or other pressing commitments.

2. (on the same page, line 11-13) Allowing a busy person to get out of jury duty by hiring a substitute would make both parties better off. Doing away with mandatory jury duty would be better still;

My question is why the word combination “jury duty” is used like a proper noun (phrase). I have learned that a word which has been mentioned before should be with a definite article. So, the second or later instance of “jury duty” in the above examples should be with a definite article, like “the jury duty” or “the mandatory jury duty.”
Could you explain why the author did not use the article?

We often do not use an article with the name of an activity, unless it is a specific instance of an activity.

I like fishing. (In this case the gerund is focused on the activity).
I like the fishing in the Fraser River. (The use of the article emphasizes the sense of the gerund as a noun).
But we can’t use “a” with fishing, except when “fishing” is used as an adjective with another noun.
I’m planning a fishing trip. (In this case the article is really for the noun, “trip”).
If I were a doctor, I could perhaps perform surgery. Then I could write:
I have surgery tomorrow. (name of activity)
I have a surgery tomorrow. (a specific instance of an activity)
So with jury duty, we can use “the” when there is a specific instance.
He has been selected for jury duty.
He will do the jury duty for a week.
In your question, item 1 only refers to jury duty as an abstract activity.
In item 2, we could use “the” with the first mention, to make the reference to jury duty a specific instance (having already been mentioned); however, we are still talking about it as a general concept, so it’s better to avoid the article.

 

About Peter J. Francis

Peter J. Francis is owner and operator of HyperGraphix Publishing Services (HGPublishing.com). He has over 30 years of professional writing and editing experience. He holds a BA (Honors) degree in English (1987), a B. Ed. degree from SFU (2005) and a certificate in Special Education from SFU (2011). He teaches high school and offers editing services as time is available.