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In addition to the regular cases where an indefinite article [ind.art.] is not used, I found this example (i.e "Jorge y Maria son matrimonio") extremely irregular. I looked up all kinds of sources on the use of indefinite articles and I'm still confused about this use. Many references claim that the ind.art. is not used when it's not necessary to emphasize the actual number (i.e one). So for example when we say "son un matrimonio" it sounds like we want to stress that they are only ONE couple.

Do I understand it correctly? If not, please help.

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Son un matrimonio sounds right to me and it doesn't sound as if you were trying to emphasize anything. You do this with all sorts of groups:

  • Son un equipo de profesionales.
  • Son un grupo de aventureros.
  • Son una pareja de amigos.

etc. Son matrimonio without the indefinite article is not something I hear often, but that might be a regional thing. I do hear and read son pareja ("they are a couple").

It seems to me that son matrimonio and son pareja are idiomatic phrases, maybe because they refer to a very specific relationship/institution. They just don't follow the usual rules.

Note that you can say Jorge y María son matrimonio but you cannot say any of the following:

  • *Jorge y María son matrimonio exitoso.
  • *Jorge y María son matrimonio de artistas.
  • *Jorge y María son matrimonio que ha pasado por muchas aventuras.

That is, you cannot add any modifiers to the noun matrimonio. This seems to show that ser matrimonio is indeed a fixed idiom and not a regular construction. (The examples above do work perfectly if you add the indefinite article.) In fact ser matrimonio acts like a stative predicate, while the regular version with the indefinite article is a common nominal predicate.

Son matrimonio. = Están casados. = "They're married."
Son un matrimonio. = "They're two people married to each other."

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  • Thank you so much for a very detailed answer. I actually found that use in the book "Vocabulario Elemental A1-A2" from ANAYA. It sounded weird at first but now I understand that it can be used idiomatically without necessarily being grammatically incorrect. And it applies to other similar expressions too. Thanks again! – Mondher Dec 31 '17 at 16:02
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    The same case can occur with the noun familia. "Somos una familia" and "somos familia", but not "somos familia cariñosa". – Rodrigo Dec 31 '17 at 17:12
  • Thanks for an interesting question. I hadn't actually thought about this before. Native speakers often fail to notice those peculiar features of their own languages. I've just added a bit of detail at the end. – pablodf76 Dec 31 '17 at 17:14
  • @Rodrigo Good example. Makes a lot of sense. Thanks a lot. – Mondher Jan 2 '18 at 17:05
  • @pablodf76 Yup, same here, one never notices the small intricacies of one's own language. As a learner, those cause a lot of confusion sometimes. – Mondher Jan 2 '18 at 17:10

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