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  1. Senior Member
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    #1

    a/an and the before alphabet letters and cardinal numbers

    You said that he was a well known player on a European football team, his name started with an "E", and his jersey had an "18" on it. I don't know who you are talking about.

    Could you please explain why the indefinite article is used here? It's a bit confusing because the general rule for articles says that when there is only one of something (for instance: the sky, the sun) we should use the in most cases. Do the native speakers of English see an alphabet letter not as the one and only? The same with cardinal numbers as in the example sentence.
    Last edited by emsr2d2; 18-Mar-2017 at 10:29.

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    #2

    Re: a/an and the before alphabet letters and cardinal numbers

    There are millions of letter Es and number 18s.

    (There were seven Es and one 18 in my first sentence. The E and the 18 in that sentence were in bold.)

  3. Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: a/an and the before alphabet letters and cardinal numbers

    Exactly.

    You asked a good question. While "an E" and "an 18" are the right choices, your example could also have correctly said "the letter E" and "the number 18." The difference is that while E is a letter and 18 is a number, among all letters and numbers, there is only one E and there is only one 18.

    That makes sense, right? The question none of the advisors here has been able to answer so far: Why do we say:

    - a cold
    - the flu
    - pneumonia
    I'm not a teacher. I speak American English. I've tutored writing at the University of Southern Maine and have done a good deal of copy editing and writing, occasionally for publication.

  4. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: a/an and the before alphabet letters and cardinal numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    The question none of the advisors here has been able to answer so far: Why do we say:

    - a cold
    - the flu
    - pneumonia
    There are quite obvious reasons. I'd be happy to answer if there was a thread.

  5. Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: a/an and the before alphabet letters and cardinal numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    There are quite obvious reasons. I'd be happy to answer if there was a thread.
    This is a thread. Isn't it the thread?
    I'm not a teacher. I speak American English. I've tutored writing at the University of Southern Maine and have done a good deal of copy editing and writing, occasionally for publication.

  6. Senior Member
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    #6

    Re: a/an and the before alphabet letters and cardinal numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    There are quite obvious reasons. I'd be happy to answer if there was a thread.
    I was about to start another thread. Very interesting question.

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    #7

    Re: a/an and the before alphabet letters and cardinal numbers

    And yes, I think I've understood my problem with letters and numbers thanks to all the replies above. I wonder if we indeed could apply similar logic to illnesses. Personally, I have no idea how to explain Charlie Bernstein's examples and would be grateful if anyone did.
    Last edited by GeneD; 18-Mar-2017 at 15:52. Reason: correction

  8. Senior Member
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    #8

    Re: a/an and the before alphabet letters and cardinal numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    Exactly.

    You asked a good question. While "an E" and "an 18" are the right choices, your example could also have correctly said "the letter E" and "the number 18." The difference is that while E is a letter and 18 is a number, among all letters and numbers, there is only one E and there is only one 18.

    That makes sense, right? The question none of the advisors here has been able to answer so far: Why do we say:

    - a cold
    - the flu
    - pneumonia
    Do you mean that what I asked is a question of perception? Just to make sure I've got it right.

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