years of service and _ final salary

From The Economist’s article on the US’s economic troubles:

American states and cities typically offer their employees
defined-benefit pensions based on years of service and final salary.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “salary” as a count noun. Singular count nouns call for the use of an article.

Is the use of the zero article before “final salary” here explained by the fact that the noun is a part of a list-like structure (“service and final salary”) where “service” cannot take an article as a mass noun (hence no article before either)?

I wonder how to explain that in linguistic terms; haven’t found a mention of such cases in R. Quirk’s grammar so far.


I think what’s going on here is that the writer is not talking about individual salaries, but rather about the idea of a salary. This shifts it from being a countable noun to being uncountable.

To take another example, “chicken” is a countable noun. You could say, “How many chickens are in the yard?” “Here is a chicken.” “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Etc. But you can also say, “I like to eat chicken.” You wouldn’t say, “I like to eat a chicken”, because you are not talking about a specific chicken. Rather you are talking about a general idea of chicken.

Another example: “The thief committed a crime.” But, “We have a problem with crime in this neighborhood.”

The construction would have been the same if the writer had said, “Pensions are based on height”. He wouldn’t say “the height”, just “height”.

If you were talking about one particular employee, you would use an article or an appropriate adjective. So, “Pensions are based on final salary,” no article, but, “An employee’s pension is based on his final salary”, with article. The meaning conveyed to the reader by both sentences is the same, but the grammar is subtly different. (I suppose in the right context, there might be a subtle difference in meaning.)

Source : Link , Question Author : CowperKettle , Answer Author : Jay

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