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I have seen some sentences in the last few days that have raised the question - Is it possible or perhaps obligatory to omit an article before countable nouns? For example in these sentences in English it wouldn't work:

  1. Er lebt mit kleinem Mann - He lives with a small man - Can I say instead: Er lebt mit einem kleinen Mann? What would be the difference? And when the first is used?

  2. Was meinen Sie mit kleinem Jungen? - What do you mean with a small boy?

  3. Wohnung mit grossem Balkon - Apartment with a big balcony
  4. Eine Tasse mit Henkel - cup with an handle.
  5. Ein Mann mit schwarzem Bart - A man with a black beard.

Is there a rule when you have/can omit the article before countable nouns?

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    @IQV At least it would take quite an effort to find a context where "Er lebt mit kleinem Mann" would be acceptable. It is not totally impossible though. More probably you would of course find contexts for: "Er lebt auf großem Fuß". "Er lebt in Saus und Braus". And even "Er wohnt mit Hund" would be possible in the right context. – Christian Geiselmann Jun 26 '18 at 11:15
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    "Was meinen sie mit kleinem Junge" seems to be a mistaken sentence. It could either be Was meinen Sie mit "kleiner Junge"? or Was meinem Sie mit kleinem Jungen?. All these sentences, however, need an appropriate context. E.g. a dialogue such as: A: Sehen Sie den kleinen Jungen da drüben? B: Was meinen Sie mit kleinem Jungen? Da sind nur so Pappaufsteller." – Christian Geiselmann Jun 26 '18 at 11:19
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    Edited to "kleinem Jungen", thanks – MrsRona Jun 26 '18 at 11:23
  • The proper translation of "Was meinen Sie mit 'kleinem Jungen'" is "What do you mean by 'small boy'?" – jonathan.scholbach Jun 26 '18 at 11:31
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    Maybe the small man comes with the apartment. – Carsten S Jun 26 '18 at 11:34
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Let's take the following set of examples:

Eine Tasse mit Henkel

Ein Mann mit schwarzem Bart

Eine Wohnung mit großem Balkon

Er lebt mit Hund

These examples have in common that some information is added to the subject or noun. The cup has a handle, the man has a beard, etc. It is in the given context not important how many Henkel, Bärte, Balkone, Hunde, although, somehow, it is clear by context that it is probably only one (Henkel, Bart, Balkon, Hund).

In terms of grammar, you can add in all cases "einem" (as the attributes accidentially all are male nouns, but it would work with female or neuter ones as well).

It seems, it is just a possible variation to omit the "einem" (or "einer"). You would use that in contexts where brevity of expression is desired, e.g. in a newspaper ad for a flat,

Biete Wohnung mit drei Zimmern, großem Balkon und Garage.

(Note that it could also be "einer Garage", but you would omit this in order to save money, as newspaper bill such ads by letter count or word count.)

Or when buying a cup:

Kunde: Ich hätte gerne eine Tasse, von diesem Service dort.

Verkäufer: Mit Henkel oder ohne?

Kunde: Eine Tasse mit Henkel, bitte.

Also, you can use this when the additional information about the subject (the cup, the man, the appartment) is of principal nature. "Er lebt mit Hund" implies that the person is habitually used to live with a dog - rather than just currently caring for his neighbour's dog or so.

You can also use this in plural:

Ein Schloss mit Türmen

Ein Auto mit Spoilern

Sie lebt mit Katzen

Er arbeitet gerade mit Kunden

Here it becomes even more clear that these are principal propositions where the exact number of items (Türme, Spoiler, Katzen) is not important. You would add the number when you think the number is important:

Sie lebt mit 25 Katzen

Ein Auto mit fünf Spoilern

Ein Schloss mit vielen Türmen

Other interesting expamples:

Eine Frau mit Vergangenheit

Ein Mann mit Erfahrung

Ein Arsch mit Ohren

These however carry a specific idiomatic meaning. Admittedly, Vergangenheit and Erfahrung are probably not fully countable, and the initial question was about countables. Ohren are countable though, and the "Arsch mit Ohren" expression shows clearly that the important thing here is the principle proposition, not the count.

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