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  1. Senior Member
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    #1

    My view on the indefinite article.

    This is just how I see articles in English. There are no sources of what I wrote other than my own experience learning the language. I'd appreciate it if you could take a while to read it, and tell me what you think.

    "A(n)" appears as a pause when the person speaking is looking for a word. It's kind of like with "umm" you can hear when somebody's thinking about what they are going to say, but in this case, they already know the word they're looking for is a noun.

    "And this was... ummm... a very successful deal." → "And this was aaa... very successful deal."

    Nouns can be described using adjectives, so they all make up one entity that is preceded by an indefinite article (well, an article in general). This is helpful in languages that can use one word as different parts of speech without changing its looks. Articles help you distinguish what part of speech each word is; its position can sometimes drastically change the meaning.

    "I'm washing a machine." vs. "I'm a washing machine."

    However, if the indefinite article comes from "umm" it does not explain its countable, singular, and general nature. I think it's a reduced version of "one", which sounds very similar to "an" (I compared it to how the indefinite article "ein" is also a number in German). If using "one" in the sentence doesn't make sense, you shouldn't use it. It also looks like a shortened version of "any" (any → an → a); this is where its general nature comes from.

    "We saw one five birds." → "We saw five birds."
    "This isn't (just) any explanation, it's THE explanation." → "This isn't an explanation, it's THE explanation."

    Last thing is that we have two indefinite articles with the exact same meaning. Vowels are difficult to pronounce when they appear after one another, so it's easier to just separate them with a consonant. This is why we use "an" with words that begin with a vowel, and "a" with words that begin with a consonant.


    Anyways, these are my thoughts on the indefinite article. The concept of articles is alien to me - my first language doesn't have articles at all. I haven't looked it up yet, I thought I'd just write what I think about them, and ask you whether I'm right. You are professionals, and most likely already know much more than I can look up.
    Last edited by Glizdka; 04-May-2019 at 11:31.

  2. probus's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: My view on the indefinite article.

    Quote Originally Posted by Glizdka View Post

    we have two indefinite articles with the exact same meaning. Vowels are difficult to pronounce when they appear after one another, so it's easier to just separate them with a consonant. This is why we use "an" with words that begin with a vowel, and "a" with words that begin with a consonant..
    At first glance this seems indisputable but as Tarheel points out in his profile, it is not true in all dialects. Apparently in North Carolina some people say "a apple" and "a orange". But such exceptions are rare.

  3. Tarheel's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: My view on the indefinite article.

    Not just in North Carolina. (At least, I don't think so.) I believe it's a Southern thing. (Somebody will correct me if I'm wrong.) Of course, a lot of Charlotteans are not from here, so we say an apple and an orange.

    Interesting post by G.
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    #4

    Re: My view on the indefinite article.

    I don't think your thesis is correct at all. Articles are not verbal fillers. They did not arise because people needed to emit some noise before they thought of the right word.

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    #5

    Re: My view on the indefinite article.

    Quote Originally Posted by Glizdka View Post
    However, if the indefinite article comes from "umm" it does not explain its countable, singular, and general nature. I think it's a reduced version of "one", which sounds very similar to "an" (I compared it to how the indefinite article "ein" is also a number in German). If using "one" in the sentence doesn't make sense, you shouldn't use it. It also looks like a shortened version of "any" (any → an → a); this is where its general nature comes from.
    As SD said, it does not come from 'ummm'. A, an and any one all come from the same Germanic root word. Far from an being a shortened form of any. any is probably originally an early form of an plus a diminutive suffix.

    Last thing is that we have two indefinite articles with the exact same meaning.
    I'd say that we have one indefinite article with two forms. We also, in the spoken language have two forms of the definite article,
    /ə/ and /iː/ in most varieties of English
    Last edited by Piscean; 06-May-2019 at 15:56.

  6. Senior Member
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    #6

    Re: My view on the indefinite article.

    Quote Originally Posted by Piscean View Post
    As SD said, it does not come from 'ummm'. A, an and any one all come from the same Germanic root word. Far from an being a shortened form of any. any is probably originally an early form of an plus a diminutive suffix.
    Wow, does this mean it's the other way around from what I thought? Is it "any" that came after "a(n)"? I can cearly see the two are closely realted, and It now seems much more logical that "any" comes from the indefinite article. Thank you!

    Quote Originally Posted by Piscean View Post
    I'd say that we have one indefinite article with two forms. We also, in the spoken language have two forms of the definite article,
    /ə/ and /iː/ in most varieties of English
    I was taught /i/ is used before a vowel sound, and /ə/ before a consonant (much like how it is with a and an. I've never heard /ə end/ although I've heard /i/ used before a consonant multiple times, so I guess the rule I was taught was not particularily accurate. I once read that /i/ can be used for emphasis. Is all of it correct?

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    #7

    Re: My view on the indefinite article.

    Quote Originally Posted by Glizdka View Post
    I was taught /i/ is used before a vowel sound, and /ə/ before a consonant (much like how it is with a and an.
    That's right - in most varieties of English.
    I've never heard /ə end/

    I believe it's common in southern Africa. It may well be in other varieties.

    I once read that /i/ can be used for emphasis.
    It can, as can /eɪ/ for a.

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    #8

    Re: My view on the indefinite article.

    The use of an and the different pronunciation of the before a vowel are both done because most speakers find them easier. In my area, many speakers use a glottal stop instead: the 'end (with a schwa), a 'apple.​ Learners shouldn't emulate this, but don't be surprised to hear it.
    I am not a teacher.

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    #9

    Re: My view on the indefinite article.

    Quote Originally Posted by probus View Post
    At first glance this seems indisputable but as Tarheel points out in his profile, it is not true in all dialects. Apparently in North Carolina some people say "a apple" and "a orange". But such exceptions are rare.
    I have no proof they're related, but it seems an interesting coincidence and a lot of geographic overlap between Southern US dialects that use an 'a' article before vowels and regions where a-prefixing is habitual.

    I sometimes catch myself doing the latter, but I don't think I ever do the former.
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    #10

    Re: My view on the indefinite article.

    Quote Originally Posted by Skrej View Post
    I have no proof they're related, but it seems an interesting coincidence and a lot of geographic overlap between Southern US dialects that use an 'a' article before vowels and regions where a-prefixing is habitual.

    I sometimes catch myself doing the latter, but I don't think I ever do the former.
    I don't see a relationship. A apple and the like is widespread in my region, but a-prefixing is rare.
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