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  1. Senior Member
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    #11

    Re: The definite article before "responsibility"

    Quote Originally Posted by GoesStation View Post
    It would work the other way around. I don't know the answer to your first question.
    When it comes to nouns that can be both countable and uncountable, it is the context that determines the way we use them, right? So, how do these contexts differ? I mean if you saw a chicken on the table, you wouldn't use "I saw chicken" and "I saw a chicken" interchangeably.
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  2. Tarheel's Avatar
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    #12

    Re: The definite article before "responsibility"

    I came. I saw. (The chicken.) I ate. (The chicken.)

    It was yummy! (It had barbecue sauce on it. Yum!)
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  3. Tarheel's Avatar
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    #13

    Re: The definite article before "responsibility"

    If I saw a chicken on the table it would most likely be in edible form. (A reason for using "I saw chicken" does not readily come to me.)
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  4. Key Member
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    #14

    Re: The definite article before "responsibility"

    Quote Originally Posted by Tarheel View Post
    If I saw a chicken on the table it would most likely be in edible form. (A reason for using "I saw chicken" does not readily come to me.)
    When we are talking about food that has been cooked I thought only the uncountable form is used. Maybe "I saw chicken" works in BrE?

  5. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #15

    Re: The definite article before "responsibility"

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    These contexts seem quite similar to me, and yet the articles are different.
    My advice is to ignore context 2. God only knows why the speaker used an article there. This example is not going to help you, I don't think.

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    What makes responsibility uncountable in the former and countable in the latter?
    In 3, by using a countable noun, the speaker is 'quantizing' his experience (forgive my use of that word) as a singular feeling among others. In other words, he's conceiving it as a 'thing' rather than as 'stuff'. Remember that this is always the difference between countable and uncountable uses.

    With this in mind, another way to read context 3 is with an implied [sense of].

    I feel a [sense of] responsibility for my ancestors

  6. Senior Member
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    #16

    Re: The definite article before "responsibility"

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    In 3, by using a countable noun, the speaker is 'quantizing' his experience
    I understand that. My question is: what allows us to use responsibility uncountably and countably in such similar contexts like 1 and 3? This doesn't happen with life/a life, time/a time, glass/a glass, etc. These are never used in similar contexts. What's so special about responsibility?
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  7. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #17

    Re: The definite article before "responsibility"

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    My question is: what allows us to use responsibility uncountably and countably in such similar contexts like 1 and 3?
    The difference comes down to how the speaker conceives of whatever is denoted by the noun phrase. I can't see how context is especially relevant apart from in that it helps show what the speaker means.

    This doesn't happen with life/a life, time/a time, glass/a glass, etc. These are never used in similar contexts. What's so special about responsibility?
    Doesn't it? Aren't they? There's nothing special about responsibilty in my mind.

  8. Senior Member
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    #18

    Re: The definite article before "responsibility"

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    The difference comes down to how the speaker conceives of whatever is denoted by the noun phrase.
    So, if I said, "The origin of a life is unknown," you wouldn't consider it ungrammatical. You'd just think, "Oh, it's just the way Alexey conceives of life."

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    Doesn't it? Aren't they? There's nothing special about responsibility in my mind.
    If I got GS's reply in #10 correctly, we can use both countable and uncountable variants in sentences 1 and 3. I can't think of any case where I could use both time/a time or life/a life the same way.
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  9. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #19

    Re: The definite article before "responsibility"

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    So, if I said, "The origin of a life is unknown," you wouldn't consider it ungrammatical.

    No, I wouldn't. There's nothing ungrammatical about that, meaning that it doesn't contravene any syntactical rules. It's just that it doesn't really make sense without appropriate context.

    You'd just think, "Oh, it's just the way Alexey conceives of life."
    No, I'd ask what the hell you mean.

    At the most basic level, I understand it like this: the difference between life and a life is that the latter is conceived in the mind as a discrete instantiation of the general concept of the former.
    Last edited by jutfrank; 19-Sep-2020 at 17:14.

  10. Senior Member
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    #20

    Re: The definite article before "responsibility"

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    No, I'd ask what the hell you mean.
    That's exactly what I'm talking about!

    The origin of life is unknown. (OK)
    The origin of a life is unknown. (What the hell does that mean?)

    We had a good time. (OK)
    We had good time. (Not OK)

    I feel a responsibility for my ancestors when I play. (OK)
    I feel responsibility for my ancestors when I play. (OK)

    Why does responsibility differ from time and life?
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