Prom time . . . .

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Tue May 2 16:27:23 UTC 2006

On May 2, 2006, at 8:00 AM, Charles Doyle wrote:

> Used to be, high-school kids would "attend the prom."  Now,
> however, they simply "attend prom."
> I wonder just when (and why) "prom" became a "non-count"
> noun, or--like "table" and "hospital"--with the definite
> article deletable (or insertable) depending on the dialect
> and the context.

i suspect it's neither; "prom" here doesn't take any of the modifiers
of mass nouns, and it doesn't require some particular preposition(s),
the way anarthrous nouns do.  instead, i think it's a pseudo-proper
noun; nouns denoting specific events can sometimes be used this way:
   Graduation/Commencement starts at noon.
though there are all sorts of complicating details: for instance,
   Prom starts at 8 p.m.
is pretty odd for me, but
   Prom is the crowning event of the school year for many seniors.
is fine.  and some nouns resolutely denote types, not tokens:
   Party starts at 8 p.m.
is just impossible for me, except as a casual-speech variant with
omitted definite article, even when context makes it clear that some
specific party is referred to.

as far as i can see, CGEL doesn't cover this -- at least, not in the
section on uses of bare NPs.


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