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    #1

    When exactly to use 'a'

    Even though I am good at english by now, quite often I end up making mistake when using 'a'.

    Consider:

    'Do we have a milk?'

    OR

    'Do we have milk?'

    Which one of these two sentences is right? & why?

    Help is highly appreciated.

    Vinod,
    Mumbai, India.

  1. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: When exactly to use 'a'

    Quote Originally Posted by vinu123 View Post
    Even though I am good at english by now, quite often I end up making mistake when using 'a'.

    Consider:

    'Do we have a milk?'

    OR

    'Do we have milk?'

    Which one of these two sentences is right? & why?

    Help is highly appreciated.

    Vinod,
    Mumbai, India.
    Do we have milk?

    Milk is uncountable so you can't use the indefinite article. You can say "Do we have a bottle of milk?" or "Do we have a carton of milk?" because both bottle and carton are countable nouns. If you are only going to use the word milk, then you are effectively saying "Do we have any milk?"


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    #3

    Re: When exactly to use 'a'

    Of those two "Do we have milk?" would be correct because milk is a non-countable noun like air, happiness, time etc

    Countable nouns like apples, teachers, warthogs require the article, so:

    The warthog is eating an apple and so is the teacher.

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    #4

    Re: When exactly to use 'a'

    Quote Originally Posted by EnglishMuffin View Post
    Of those two "Do we have milk?" would be correct because milk is a non-countable noun like air, happiness, time etc

    Countable nouns like apples, teachers, warthogs require the article, so:

    The warthog is eating an apple and so is the teacher.
    (Not a teacher)
    [With due respect to the above postings]
    As far as I know, there is what we call "Mass-to-Count Noun Shifts", where some of more concrete noncount mass nouns may shift to countable ones. For example, if we conceive of mass nouns such as wine, tea, cheese, coffee, aspirn, chocolate, etc., as either "a unit or a serving of" or "a kind or a type of", we make it countable. Therefore,"a milk" may mean either one of the definitions mentioned above as opposed to the generic meaning of "milk", i.e. any "milk".


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    #5

    Re: When exactly to use 'a'

    Yes, you're right Albertino but in this case he was asking the basic rule to know when to use the article so I didn't extend it to the words that can be used in either way.

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    #6

    Re: When exactly to use 'a'

    Quote Originally Posted by emsr2d2 View Post
    Do we have milk?

    Milk is uncountable so you can't use the indefinite article. You can say "Do we have a bottle of milk?" or "Do we have a carton of milk?" because both bottle and carton are countable nouns. If you are only going to use the word milk, then you are effectively saying "Do we have any milk?"
    Although I know the difference now, it's still gonna take me a while to figure out what to use & when?

    Thanks for your help buddy.

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    #7

    Re: When exactly to use 'a'

    Quote Originally Posted by vinu123 View Post
    Although I know the difference now, it's still gonna take me a while to figure out what to use & when?

    Thanks for your help buddy.
    A hint is to see if you think you can exchange a number for the word "a".

    Do we have a milk? If you take out "a" and put "seven", you get "Do we have seven milks?" Does that sound correct to you? I hope not.

    In the context of the specific sentence/noun that you are trying to write, if you are tempted to put "a", try the same trick. Most of the time, if you find that the sentence sounds completely incorrect with a number, then it is also incorrect with "a".

    Is there a sand on the beach?
    Are there twelve sands on the beach?
    Both incorrect.

    Do I have a dirt on my face?
    Do I have four dirts on my face?
    Both incorrect.

    Do you have a coat?
    Do you have three coats?
    Both correct.

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    #8

    Re: When exactly to use 'a'

    That was the most helping explanation you just gave.

    Thanks a million mate.

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    #9

    Re: When exactly to use 'a'

    Quote Originally Posted by vinu123 View Post
    Even though I am good at english by now, quite often I end up making mistake when using 'a'.

    Consider:

    'Do we have a milk?'

    OR

    'Do we have milk?'

    Which one of these two sentences is right? & why?

    Help is highly appreciated.

    Vinod,
    Mumbai, India.
    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****

    Hello, Vinod.

    (1) I thought that you would like to know that sometimes Americans

    do use "milk," "coffee," and "tea" as count nouns in informal speech.

    (a) For example, if you go to a restaurant, you could say to the

    server (waiter or waitress):

    We want 2 glasses of milk, 3 cups of coffee, and 4 cups of tea, please.

    OR

    We want 2 milks, 3 coffees, and 4 teas, please.

    ***** Thank you *****

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    #10

    Re: When exactly to use 'a'

    Quote Originally Posted by TheParser View Post
    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****

    Hello, Vinod.

    (1) I thought that you would like to know that sometimes Americans

    do use "milk," "coffee," and "tea" as count nouns in informal speech.

    (a) For example, if you go to a restaurant, you could say to the

    server (waiter or waitress):

    We want 2 glasses of milk, 3 cups of coffee, and 4 cups of tea, please.

    OR

    We want 2 milks, 3 coffees, and 4 teas, please.

    ***** Thank you *****
    Hello there,
    I get your point & have seen native speakers say it, but considering the fact that english is my third language & my strong Indian accent, people are more likely to get me wrong (rather dismiss me or ask me to say it again. This has happened when I was in NZ ) than the native speakers.

    As you may already know, it is believed that

    "It's my language, & I can twist it however I want".

    That way, I cannot afford to make mistakes.

    I do however appreciate insight of an informal english in US.

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