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    #1

    with an article or without?

    Hi,everyone.
    Would you please tell me which of the following two version is the way native speakers of English speak? The only difference between them is the use of the article "a" in the underlined part.
    1. Egypt is an old country with a long history.
    2. Egypt is an old country with long history.
    It would be highly appreciated if you would give some reason.
    Richard


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    #2

    Smile Re: with an article or without?

    Quote Originally Posted by ohmyrichard View Post
    Hi,everyone.
    Would you please tell me which of the following two version is the way native speakers of English speak? The only difference between them is the use of the article "a" in the underlined part.
    1. Egypt is an old country with a long history.
    2. Egypt is an old country with long history.
    It would be highly appreciated if you would give some reason.
    Richard
    Use the one with the article, "with a long history". The indefinite article clearly informs us that this is one history of other possible histories. If we attribute "history" directly to Egypt, then it becomes specific, meaning not one of many, but one that is unique - the history of Egypt. There is only one history of Egypt.

    Here's a case in which we can do without the indefintie article: "Boston has a lot of history". Here we are talking about "history in general", not any particular type of history, such as "a long history", as in "Egypt is a country with a long history".

    Consider this: He's a doctor. Why do we have to say "a doctor"? Why can't we just say "he's doctor"? In English, we first have to recognize that he is "one" doctor of many other doctors. We do this with the indefinite article. One is left to simply understand, or believe, that he is one doctor of many in languages that don't utilize indefinite articles in this way.

    In English, if one says, "he's doctor", it's quite possible for the listener to think, or wonder, "he's doctor? doctor who? What's his name?" He's Doctor Louis. One would likely not think this, but the potential is there, given how the grammar functions - the purpose of the indefinite article in English.

    Now, he's not one doctor of many doctors. In this case, one could say, "he's the doctor I've been going to for the past two years", for example.

    Does this help you make sense of the indefinite article in English? I hope so.

    Last edited by PROESL; 24-Aug-2009 at 15:28. Reason: added a word

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    #3

    Re: with an article or without?

    Quote Originally Posted by PROESL View Post
    Use the one with the article, "with a long history". The indefinite article clearly informs us that this is one history of other possible histories. If we attribute "history" directly to Egypt, then it becomes specific, meaning not one of many, but one that is unique - the history of Egypt. There is only one history of Egypt.

    Thanks a lot for your detailed explanation, PROESL. However, I understand the use of the indefinite article "a" in " with a long history" in a slightly different way. In my humble view, this "a" does not imply "Egypt has other histories" or "the history of Egypt is compared with other countries's histories", but it is only that you native speakers simply speak this particular way. From my observation, it is especially so with set phrases or idioms. For example, "have a good time" does not necessarily mean this "time" in such situations is a countable noun;"time" is countable in other situations, though. So, it is your linguistic intuition that helps you decide whether to use "a" or not; in other words, it is the social norms that work and should be abided by. I mean such "a's" or "an's" are difficult to explain in terms of their countability.
    I might be wrong about this linguistic phenomenon. I sincerely hope you can give me some further advice.
    Thanks again.
    Richard
    Last edited by ohmyrichard; 25-Aug-2009 at 04:45.


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    #4

    Smile Re: with an article or without?

    Quote Originally Posted by ohmyrichard View Post
    Thanks a lot for your detailed explanation, PROESL. However, I understand the use of the indefinite article "a" in " with a long history" in a slightly different way. In my humble view, this "a" does not imply "Egypt has other histories" or "the history of Egypt is compared with other countries's histories", but it is only that you native speakers simply speak this particular way. From my observation, it is especially so with set phrases or idioms. For example, "have a good time" does not necessarily mean this "time" in such situations is a countable noun;"time" is countable in other situations, though. So, it is your linguistic intuition that helps you decide whether to use "a" or not; in other words, it is the social norms that work and should be abided by. I mean such "a's" or "an's" are difficult to explain in terms of their countability.
    I might be wrong about this linguistic phenomenon. I sincerely hope you can give me some further advice.
    Thanks again.
    Richard
    In my humble view, this "a" does not imply "Egypt has other histories" or "the history of Egypt is compared with other countries's histories", but it is only that you native speakers simply speak this particular way. <<

    I meant that Egypt's history in one history among the histories of many other countries.

    Anyway, I understand the rest of your post.

    Maybe this one small clarification will help you understand what I mean.


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    #5

    Re: with an article or without?

    Quote Originally Posted by ohmyrichard View Post
    Hi,everyone.
    Would you please tell me which of the following two version is the way native speakers of English speak? The only difference between them is the use of the article "a" in the underlined part.
    1. Egypt is an old country with a long history. (specific - when there is an answer to the question "which" or "what" that was known to both the speaker and the listener.)
    2. Egypt is an old country with long history.(non-specific)
    It would be highly appreciated if you would give some reason.
    Richard
    Not a teacher nor native speaker.
    Last edited by albertino; 25-Aug-2009 at 05:23.

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    #6

    Re: with an article or without?

    Quote Originally Posted by PROESL View Post
    In my humble view, this "a" does not imply "Egypt has other histories" or "the history of Egypt is compared with other countries's histories", but it is only that you native speakers simply speak this particular way. <<

    I meant that Egypt's history in one history among the histories of many other countries.

    Anyway, I understand the rest of your post.

    Maybe this one small clarification will help you understand what I mean.

    Hi,PROESL.
    Yesterday I came across the following paragraph in The Good Earth by the Nobel Laureate Pearl S. Buck:
    "There was a man who used to come in to me at the great tea house, and he often spoke of his daughter, because he said she was such an one as I, small and fine, but still only a child, and he said, 'And I love you with a strange unease as though you were my daughter; you are too like her, and it troubles me for it is not lawful,' and for this reason, although he loved me best, he went to a great red girl called Pomegranate Flower."
    I consulted my dictionaries and one of them says "unease" is an uncountable noun and the other says "unease" is uncountable and singular(I never see "unease" in its plural form). So, it seems that the example of "a strange unease" supports my judgement.
    There is another sentence in the same novel on p.271, which goes, "When they came to O-lan's bed she had fallen into a light sleep and the sweat stood like dew on her upper lip and on her forehead, and the old doctor shook his head to see it."
    Here, "a sleep" means "a period of sleeping". My Longman dictionary gives an example sentence after the sense: I usually have a sleep after lunch. "Sleep" is marked with [singular] at this sense and it means there is never "sleeps" when "sleep" is used to mean "a period of sleeping." In this sense there is still a slight difference between "history" and "unease"/"sleep" in question.
    All this reasoning is based on my own observation. In English there are many things which are seemingly simple but actually very difficult, especially for non-native speakers of English. I feel strongly that I need to read an authoritative grammar book for a better understanding of this issue.
    Hope you give me some response if you like.
    Thanks.
    Richard


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    #7

    Re: with an article or without?

    You'll find that this pattern occurs from time to time in English: a + adjective + uncountable noun.

    It doesn't occur with great frequency, which makes it seem somewhat unusual. This pattern is not typical of indefinite article use, but it does occur.

    'And I love you with a strange unease.

    He's saying that this "strange unease" is one of other possible such similar feelings. Let's assume for a moment that this is a conversation. After stating "and I love you with a strange unease", he might then later relate to a friend, "The strange unease that I felt when I was around her was later to reveal itself in a rather unpleasant form".

    This is tricky because, of course, it's not possible to count "unease", an abstract noun, yet here we are using it with an indefinite article.


    This pattern is easier to explain with the next example.


    "When they came to O-lan's bed she had fallen into a light sleep and the sweat stood like dew on her upper lip and on her forehead, and the old doctor shook his head to see it."

    There are other light sleeps. However, it would be unlikely to speak of a specific light sleep, unless, perhaps, a doctor was talking about a medical condition or the effects of a medication, for example.

    Here's how one might imagine an example of a specific light sleep.

    When the effects of the medication begin, the patient usually falls into a light sleep. The light sleep that the patient experiences often lasts for a few hours.

    This, too, is tricky because we can't count "sleep", another absract noun, yet here it is preceded by an indefinite article.

    It takes some consideration to reason why an article is used such examples. These aren't the sort of things that come up in a typical ESL lesson about articles. Only online would I expect to encounter such a question about articles, unless of course I had a student who was an English literature major and wanted to make sense out of every word she read in English.
    Last edited by PROESL; 28-Aug-2009 at 17:27. Reason: left out a word


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    #8

    Re: with an article or without?

    This whole thing about being able to say "a sleep" reminds me of my thread about the noun "police". As well, "sleep" is a strange noun because we can't count "sleep", yet we can use it with an indefinite article, as you say you have noted in the Longman Dictionary. We can say "a sleep", but such as phrase as "three sleeps" is highly unlikely because sleep, as an abstract noun, is not something we ordinarily count.

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    #9

    Re: with an article or without?

    Quote Originally Posted by PROESL View Post
    This whole thing about being able to say "a sleep" reminds me of my thread about the noun "police". As well, "sleep" is a strange noun because we can't count "sleep", yet we can use it with an indefinite article, as you say you have noted in the Longman Dictionary. We can say "a sleep", but such as phrase as "three sleeps" is highly unlikely because sleep, as an abstract noun, is not something we ordinarily count.
    Thanks for explaining this issue in a lot of detail, PROESL. Now I have fully understood this use of the article "a/an" in this particular situation. This seemingly easy stuff is no easy to nonnative speakers of English like me.
    Thanks again.
    Richard

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