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    #1

    Usage: indefinite article "a" with mass nouns

    Hello.
    While reading a world-famous masterpiece of English literature written by J.R.R Tolkien, I have come across a good many usages which are difficult to find in standard ESL learning materials. And one of them - not the most difficult one, I suppose, but still requiring some clarifications - has been mentioned above in the topic. In order to give the context, I would like to cite a sentence from "The Hobbit":

    "If he plunged into it, a vapour and a steam would arise enough to cover all the land with a mist for days; but the lake was mightier than he, it would quench him before he could pass through."

    So, I am wondering why "a vapour", "a steam", and "a mist" were used as countable nouns, especially "a steam". I have also tried to guess at the reasons myself, and I suppose that the point is that in each case it may mean, so to say, a limited amount of the substance (just enough "to cover all the land") within certain limits in space - simply "a cloud of...". I am not 100% sure if I have got it right, so I need your help.

    Thanks very much in advance.

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    #2

    Re: Usage: indefinite article "a" with mass nouns

    Quote Originally Posted by Weaver67 View Post
    Hello.
    While reading a world-famous masterpiece of English literature written by J.R.R Tolkien, I have come across a good many usages which are difficult to find in standard ESL learning materials. And one of them - not the most difficult one, I suppose, but still requiring some clarifications - has been mentioned above in the topic. In order to give the context, I would like to cite a sentence from "The Hobbit":

    "If he plunged into it, a vapour and a steam would arise enough to cover all the land with a mist for days; but the lake was mightier than he, it would quench him before he could pass through."

    So, I am wondering why "a vapour", "a steam", and "a mist" were used as countable nouns, especially "a steam". I have also tried to guess at the reasons myself, and I suppose that the point is that in each case it may mean, so to say, a limited amount of the substance (just enough "to cover all the land") within certain limits in space - simply "a cloud of...". I am not 100% sure if I have got it right, so I need your help.

    Thanks very much in advance.
    I agree with your supposition and/or that the mist and steam were of a certain type, but I would add that "vapor" could be considered a count-noun.

  1. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: Usage: indefinite article "a" with mass nouns

    Quote Originally Posted by Weaver67 View Post
    Hello.
    While reading a world-famous masterpiece of English literature written by J.R.R Tolkien, I have come across a good many usages which are difficult to find in standard ESL learning materials. And one of them - not the most difficult one, I suppose, but still requiring some clarifications - has been mentioned above in the topic. In order to give the context, I would like to cite a sentence from "The Hobbit":

    "If he plunged into it, a vapour and a steam would arise enough to cover all the land with a mist for days; but the lake was mightier than he, it would quench him before he could pass through."

    So, I am wondering why "a vapour", "a steam", and "a mist" were used as countable nouns, especially "a steam". I have also tried to guess at the reasons myself, and I suppose that the point is that in each case it may mean, so to say, a limited amount of the substance (just enough "to cover all the land") within certain limits in space - simply "a cloud of...". I am not 100% sure if I have got it right, so I need your help.

    Thanks very much in advance.
    I agree with your comment. I think this is an issue of style rather than grammar.

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