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  1. itry2brational
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    itry2brational New Member

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    an establishment vs the establishment

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by itry2brational, Apr 16, 2008.

    I have done some of my own research on this but have yet to find something absolutely concrete to pin down my dilemma. What affect does use of the definite article 'the' have on the word 'establishment'? How does that compare to using the indirect article 'an'?

    The word establishment in its most common usages has two different meanings. It can mean the act, instance or condition of establishing/being established OR it can refer to an organization, place, institution or entity.

    From what I have researched on the use of definite and indefinite articles it would appear that when we use the definite article 'the' before the word 'establishment' we mean to use the word one of two ways. We are either referring to something very specific or possibly already referenced previously in the text or we can use it in the abstract sense as the act, instance or condition of establishing. When we use the indefinite article 'an' before the word we mean a place, organization, institution or entity of some kind.

    Is there really a clear cut way to determine the correct usage/definition of the word 'establishment' dependent upon which article, either definite or indifinite, is used before the word?
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wouldn't the context around the sentence where you're pondering 'an' vs 'the', and the use of the word establishment, clarify it for the reader?

    Sorry, if I am missing the point of concern.

    Terry
     
  3. itry2brational
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    itry2brational New Member

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    I'm afraid that doing so would bias the responses. Is there a way to use the indefinite article 'an' with the word 'establishment' and have it mean the act, condition or instance of establishing?

    From my search on the articles of speech, 'the' has specific uses and 'a' and 'an' do as well. 'The' is the only definite article in the English language. The others are indefinite. I was hoping there was a way to make the grammatical rules concrete so that depending on which article you used we would/should all agree on HOW the word is being used.

    I don't want to have this turn into a debate about the actual sentence I am considering. I am hunting for the actual rules of grammar which govern the effects the articles have on how the word 'establishment' is defined within ANY sentence, not just one...if such rules exist. Know what I mean?
     
  4. zconstantine
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    zconstantine New Member

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    I believe that this issue is resolved quite simply - there is a vernacular meaning which is implied when one refers to "The Establishment" versus "an establishment".

    Consider a Google define: search for The Establishment as opposed to establishment.

    If you have not seen the "T" and the "E" in "The Establishment" capitalized, it is most likely a result of the writer's failure to observe the mechanics of writing.
     
  5. itry2brational
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    itry2brational New Member

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    Neither are capitalized. If you can show me how the meaning of the word is very specific when you use the indefinite or the definite article, I would appreciate it. I have yet to find a rule which guides me to a concrete way to define the word, just more or less rules of grammar for the articles.

    The phrase I am considering is 'an establishment'. I will see if I can give a suitable example without giving away the original:

    Employees shall not write memos regarding an establishment of education.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The indefinite articles a or an are used if there is a possibility of more than one of the entity identified by a noun, and the context does not indicate a specific one of that set. The definite article the is used if there is either only one possible instance of the related noun, or if the context points to one specific instance.

    If the noun represents the abstraction of a concept, it is usually treated as if it is universal:
    As far as I know, indirect and direct are incorresct usage when referring to articles. The terms I learned are indefinite and definite articles. Please let me know if an authoritative source says that direct and indirect are proper synonyms in this context.
     
  7. itry2brational
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    itry2brational New Member

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    You are correct. My OP said direct and indirect rather than definite and indefinite. Oddly, I unconsciously corrected myself for further posts. Weird. I will go back to my OP post and fix the errors to prevent further confusion.

    I like your definition and examples. They would appear to support my position. Can you provide a reference which generally says 'the is used if there is either only one possible instance of the related noun, or if the context points to one specific instance'?

    Something I just noticed is that you have assumed we are speaking of an entity, group, institution etc. This is opposed to your final example where you are clearly using 'establishment' to mean an act of establishing or being established. Is this based on the example I provided where I said 'an establishment' rather than 'the establishment'? I know I am being pedantic but the interpretation of the sentence/phrase is very important.

    I just want to be sure before I make an assertion that essentially says that if we say 'the establishment' we are using the word in only one of two ways: either we are referring to something specific, one of kind or already referenced earlier in the text OR we are using the word in its abstract form, as an act, instance or condition of establishing or being established. And also, that if we say 'an establishment' it cannot(or should not) mean we are using the word in its abstract form.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    first, you have to tell us if you want to use the word as a verb or a noun... only then, can your questions be addressed with any logic or specificity...

    here, you seem to be referring to an 'institution' of learning... or, a school... but the wording is so oddly 'off' as to make it still unclear, since you could be meaning the 'starting' or 'founding' of a system of education...

    so, tell us if you want to use the word in its verb form, as 'founding' et al., or in its noun form, as 'store'; 'restaurant' et al.
     
  9. itry2brational
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    itry2brational New Member

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    I can't. Thats the trick. I am trying to interpret the correct definitional usage of 'establishment' as it is used in a similar sentence and find a grammatical basis for my conclusion. The sentence/phrase is already written, its a matter of interpretation.

    If I rewrote my example to be:

    Employees shall not write memos regarding the establishment of education.
    as opposed to...
    Employees shall not write memos regarding an establishment of education.

    Would you still lean towards it referring to an 'institution' in the former? As a previous poster mentioned, could 'the establishment of education' refer to only one possible instance or a specific instance? Keep in mind also that this is the first sentence in the document. So there is nothing to refer back to.

    Can you give me two examples (of your own, if you wish) which are similar but written using the indefinite article and then the definite and then explain why we know for certain you mean 'the act or instance of' for one and 'an institution' for the other? Also, since the word 'establishment' is a noun and not a verb but it has a definition which appears to be verb-like how do we clearly distinguish from one usage and the next via article usage or perhaps context? I have my own research but it just seems tenuous and I would need something concrete before I make a claim. Know what I mean?
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Your best bet is to pick up a writer's manual or two. I like The Little, Brown Handbook, The Scott Foresman Handbook for Writers, and The Chicago Manual of Style. Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is another important reference, but most of its advice is on a higher level than grammar and usage.
     
  11. itry2brational
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    itry2brational New Member

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    These books will make it all clear? In them there is some grammatical rule which I have not already found which can point us to the correct interpretation?

    My latest research has pointed towards context playing a major role. I guess at this point I will just let the cat out of the bag. I am trying to use simple grammar to interpret the religion clauses in the First Amendment. It reads as such:

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

    When I read this I take it to mean 'an institution or organization' and not 'the act of establishing'. I also use other Articles found in the Constitution which use the word 'establishment' in its abstract form to help guide me.

    ARTICLE VII.
    "The ratification of the Conventions of Nine States shall be sufficient for the establishment of this constitution, between the States so ratifying the same."

    From what I know about the word an it means one or any, not particular. If the drafters meant to say 'the act of establishing' they would have used the instead and worded it similarly to Article VII. Also, when we consider Article VII we can see that they are using the word very specifically, which follows the rules for the usage of the definite article the. It concerns the establishment of this constitution.

    I can see of one way where by changing the wording a little we can come to a version which means 'the act or instance of establishing' but it requires more than one change to work grammatically.

    Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

    But since the drafters did not use this wording, and we can see that they rejected versions which seemed to fit this type of wording, we can be fairly certain that they did not mean it this way. At least, this is my conclusion from doing my own research. :)

    There really is a lot to all this, but I wanted to keep with just the grammar side for this forum rather than get into discussion which wanders away from that.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the framers of our constitution were not blessed with a pope's self-awarded infallibility, thus could fall victim to fallible ordinary humankind's ability to make mistakes... in this case, however, i'm not at all sure it was a mistake... especially given the common usage of the words in the days when this document was drafted, which you seem to be overlooking... people did not speak or write as we do then, nor did grammar hew to the same set of rules you will find in any of the books recommended here...

    the clause speaks for itself:

    had it said 'the' establishment, it could have referred to a specific one, whereas 'an' lets it refer to 'any'... that it refers to that word in its 'founding' sense and not as a building, or an organizition is made perfectly clear by what follows, as a building or association of any kind can't be 'exercised' can it?...

    one shouldn't make a determination only on a few words and ignore the rest of the sentence/clause... if you paid better attention to that last part, you should not have been confused or had any doubts as to what the word 'establishment' meant there...
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In a word, yes. Looking in the index of The Chicago Manual of Style (15th Edition) alone, I see 26 subitems under articles (definite and indefinite), several of which point to ten or more references in the text. There's a lot of detailed explanation provided.

    In the examples you gave, it's not so much a question of which example is correct, as it is a question of how each example differs in meaning.
     
  14. itry2brational
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    itry2brational New Member

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    Thanks for your reply, mammamaia. I have done extensive research on this so I am quite familiar with the lexicon of the day. In fact, we can see them use the word 'establishment' previously in the Constitution itself as I have already given as an example. Though they used the definite article the and its usage is made quite clear.

    The adverb 'thereof' in the free exercise clause takes its entire meaning from the word to which it refers, which in this case is 'religion' and not 'establishment'. The drafters used the word 'thereof' quite extensively and here are only a fraction of some of those usages:

    Article. I. - The Legislative Branch
    Section 2 - The House
    "When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof ..."
    Executive Authority of what? 'any State'

    Section 3 - The Senate
    "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, (chosen by the Legislature thereof,)"
    Legislature of what? 'each State'

    "...if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof"
    The Executive of what? 'any State'

    Section 8 - Powers of Congress
    "To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof,..."
    Value of what? 'Money'

    Article. II. - The Executive Branch
    Section 1 - The President
    "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof..."
    Legislature of what? 'Each State'

    And finally we come to the Amendments.
    Amendment I
    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"
    Free exercise of what? 'religion'

    Its not an institution that is being 'exercised'. It is free exercise of religion. The Establishment clause restricts Congress' ability to make laws with regard to(respecting) religion and the free Exercise clause defines religious liberty more broadly so it may apply to individuals. This much is very clear when we read the several other drafts which they considered, all of which had a clause that was applicable to individuals. If it were not interpreted this way, then there would appear to be no religious liberties for individuals at all within either clause.

    So, of course its not 'an establishment' that is given free exercise. Its plainly, free exercise of religion. To remove the Establishment clause and view the Free Exercise clause on its own would yield this:

    Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

    Which makes perfect sense grammatically.

    Overall, the words used in both clauses are not complicated and their definitions have not changed much in 200 years.

    I find your interpretation of the usage of an to mean any to be agreeable. Congress cannot make laws regarding ANY establishment of religion. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism are all various establishments of religion. A law which relates to any of them is not permitted.

    I also agree with you that they did not make a mistake. This was quite possibly their most debated and important Amendment and we can see from the records of the Continental Congress that its discussion was quite vigorous. We can see how they rejected as many as 9 previous versions, some of which differed only by a word or two. So, if they meant to say the act of establishing then it seems only logical to word it similarly to Article VII. More than one rejected version specifically said 'establishing'...but they were rejected.
     
  15. itry2brational
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    itry2brational New Member

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    Cogito, thanks. I will pick up a copy and check it out. Hopefully there is more in the Manual than what I have been able to find online.
     
  16. Mick Jagger
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    Mick Jagger New Member

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    There were rules of construction at the time the Constitution was made. According to those rules, " Words [in a legal instrument] are generally to be understood in their usual and most known signification; not so much regarding the propriety of grammar, as their general and popular use."
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    excellent point, mick!... which is why we have to have 9 supreme court justices agonize over every nuance of that language whenever something in the constitution is questioned...
     
  18. itry2brational
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    itry2brational New Member

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    I fail to see how the meaning of the words has changed my position. 'Their general and popular use' is something which I used to come to their meaning. We see the word 'thereof' used frequently. We see them use the phrase 'the establishment' in Article VII and its very clear it means the act or instance of establishing.

    I don't believe I have used the words in an UNusual or UNknown signification. In fact, quite the opposite. In order to interpret 'an establishment of religion' to mean the act or instance of establishing a NATIONAL religion requires modifiers(national etc) and an uncommon, and from what I can see incorrect, usage of the terminology.

    Mick,

    I believe your quote came from Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769) from Sir William Blackstone. To say that this contained the same rules for construction and interpretation of laws for the newly forming United States requires a bit more evidence than quoting this British document. However, if we are to use it I will also quote-mine a further point made within this document. Your quote came from subsection 1. of the section labeled 'Of the Nature of Laws in General', mine will be from subsection 2.:

    "2. If words happen to still be dubious, we may establish their meaning from the context; with which it may be of singular use to compare a word, or a sentence, whenever they are ambiguous, equivocal, or intricate."

    By comparing how they used the words 'the establishment' in Article VII to how they used 'an establishment' in the First Amendment we can easily see that they are used differently. We or I also compared how they used the word 'thereof' throughout to how it is used in the Free Exercise clause to establish that it refers to the word 'religion' alone.

    Therefore, 'the establishment' refers to a one of a kind event while 'an establishment' does not. 'An establishment' is used in its broad and also quite common usage to mean an organization or institution.

    While this is only a grammatical view of how to interpret the meaning of the First Amendment, the historical view overwhelmingly supports this grammatical interpretation. James Madison was a very important figure in the formation of this Amendment in particular. He came up with the first version and also helped finalize the accepted version. He was there every step of the way. We have many quotes and writings by him which clarify HIS interpretation of the meaning behind both the First Amendment and his views on religion and government. To spare you, here are only a couple:

     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think you are confused about the purpose of this forum. This is not a political forum, using verbal semantics to make a political point.

    You asked about distinctions between meanings of a word, and the significance of the definite or indefinite article in that regard. That has been answered.

    To carry this discussion any further in the direction it is going is not in the spirit of a writing workshop. At this point I am closing the thread.
     
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