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Subject: the article A
Question: Hello

I found the following information about the indefinite article
''a'' in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

''used before uncountable nouns when these have an
adjective in front of them, or phrase following them. For
* a good knowledge of French
* a sadness that won't go away

Well, here is my question: Honestly, I don't understand the
information. Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary says that
the indefinite article ''a'' is used before uncountable nouns
when these have an adjective in front of them. But, as far as
I know, the indefinite article ''a'' cannot be used in front of
uncountable nouns.

Does the information mean that we can ALWAYS use the
indefinite article ''a'' in front of uncountable nouns that have
an adjective in front of them? Is it a rule?

Please explain your reasons.

Thank you

Reply: The rules for article use are very complicated and one can often find counterexamples
to a generalization.

Having said that, I agree with Dr Fischer's comments.

The semantics of an uncountable does imply that rules such as pluralization or
specifying a single instance out should not make sense. In normal conversation,
"knowledges" or "sadnesses" sounds odd.

As Dr Fischer noted, when you modify an uncountable with an adjective or some sort of
relative clause or phrase, the semantics then suggests you can classify different types
of kinds of an uncountable. So, it then becomes countable and you can then add
articles or sometimes use even pluralization ('e.g. "our different freedoms").
Reply From: Elizabeth J Pyatt      click here to access email
Date: 25-Jul-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: the article A    Susan D Fischer     (24-Jul-2013)
  2. Re: the article A    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (25-Jul-2013)

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