The usage of the definite article


I'm watching a movie about an asteroid colliding with the Earth. At some point I saw a caption:

10 days until impact

Why isn't it

10 days until the impact

There is one particulat impact that the screenwriter meant. Why can we skip the article? It isn't an uncountable substance. Why is it correct? It sounds to me like

Could you lend me pen?

which is incorrect.


Posted 2015-12-28T23:15:54.663

Reputation: 609

It's true that impact is not a substance, but it can be used uncountably. – Damkerng T. – 2015-12-28T23:31:42.190



When talking about counting down until some specified time, it's rather common to omit the article. That's why you'll see phrases like:

  • 10 seconds until liftoff
  • 8 days until Christmas
  • 6 years until retirement
  • 5 minutes until boarding

Oddly enough, I think the scriptwriters would include the article if the speaker was talking about the asteroid:

  • 10 days until the asteroid hits Earth

Note: it would not be ungrammatical to say more wordy versions:

  • 10 seconds until the liftoff
  • 6 years until my retirement
  • 5 minutes until we are boarding the aircraft

but the sentences are fine without those extra words. Sometimes a more terse wording is preferred – particularly in a control room or situation room of some sort. Something like "10 days until impact" has the tone you'd expect to hear in an environment where generals, heads of state, or other uniformed personnel might be monitoring a crisis.


Posted 2015-12-28T23:15:54.663

Reputation: 108 123

Really, you should wait a little longer before accepting this answer. Here's why. (You only asked the question 20 minutes ago!)

– J.R. – 2015-12-28T23:36:19.887

3+1 I think the key is that "until Christmas" - when you're dealing with aerospace or military or financial or flight planning, terms like lift-off, zero hour, retirement, boarding don't represent instances of a common noun but the name of a specific target event, like D-Day. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2015-12-28T23:37:08.520

1@StoneyB - I think you might be onto something there. That's why we'd say, "11 days until Election Day," for example, but, "11 days before the election." – J.R. – 2015-12-28T23:39:51.280


@StoneyB It happens in sports as well! *This technique allows the sole of the club to contact the grass at impact and slide easily under the ball.*

– Damkerng T. – 2015-12-28T23:55:22.053