1. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    with an article or without?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ohmyrichard, Aug 24, 2009.

    Hi,everyone.

    Would you please tell me which of the following two version is the way native speakers of English speak? The only difference between them is the use of the article "a" in the underlined part.

    1. Egypt is an old country with a long history.

    2. Egypt is an old country with long history.

    It would be highly appreciated if you would give some reason.

    Richard
     
  2. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Option 1. Thats how I would say it and I an a native speaker of english. The second option just sounds funny.
     
  3. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks, Unit7.
    Richard
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    In the majority of cases in English, nouns need an article, whether its the definite or indefinite. So yeah, the first example for sure...
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Although, just looking at that sentence you can see some exceptions, and some ways that English differs from other European languages - no articles for proper nouns, only one article for lists/groups.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's not as simple as that. The noun history, in this context, implies one of many, so yes, it's appropriate to use an article. On the other hand, the noun universe does not usually imply a possibility of another. Still, we generally use the definite article with it (the universe).

    But there are nouns that refer to abstractions, for which the noun implies the totality of the abstraction, and in that case we don't use an article:
    The same noun, but now it refers to history as a trait, not as a particular collection of events, so an article would be inappropriate in this context.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    Good lesson, Cog!

    [note my not using an article there, since it's an exclamation, not a formal sentence... which is another instance in which the article would be dropped]
     
  8. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks a lot for your enlightening explanation, Cogito. However, I understand the use of the indefinite article "a" in " with a long history" in a slightly different way. In my humble view, this "a" does not imply "Egypt has other histories" or "the history of Egypt is compared with other countries's histories", but it is only that you native speakers simply speak this particular way. From my observation, it is especially so with set phrases or idioms. For example, "have a good time" does not necessarily mean this "time" in such situations is a countable noun;"time" is countable in other situations, though. So, it is your linguistic intuition that helps you decide whether to use "a" or not; in other words, it is the social norms that work and should be abided by. I mean such "a's" or "an's" are difficult to explain in terms of their countability.
    I might be wrong about this linguistic phenomenon. I sincerely hope you can give me some further advice.
    Thanks again.
    Richard
     
  9. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Hi,everyone.

    Yesterday I came across the following paragraph in The Good Earth by the Nobel Laureate Pearl S. Buck:

    "There was a man who used to come in to me at the great tea house, and he often spoke of his daughter, because he said she was such an one as I, small and fine, but still only a child, and he said, 'And I love you with a strange unease as though you were my daughter; you are too like her, and it troubles me for it is not lawful,' and for this reason, although he loved me best, he went to a great red girl called Pomegranate Flower."

    I consulted my dictionaries and one of them says "unease" is an uncountable noun and the other says "unease" is uncountable and singular(I never see "unease" in its plural form). So, it seems that the example of "a strange unease" supports my judgement.

    There is another sentence in the same novel on p.271, which goes, "When they came to O-lan's bed she had fallen into a light sleep and the sweat stood like dew on her upper lip and on her forehead, and the old doctor shook his head to see it."

    Here, "a sleep" means "a period of sleeping". My Longman dictionary gives an example sentence after the sense: I usually have a sleep after lunch. "Sleep" is marked with [singular] at this sense and it means there is never "sleeps" when "sleep" is used to mean "a period of sleeping." In this sense there is still a slight difference between "history" and "unease"/"sleep" in question.

    All this reasoning is based on my own observation. In English there are many things which are seemingly simple but actually very difficult, especially for non-native speakers of English. I feel strongly that I need to read an authoritative grammar book for a better understanding of this issue.

    Hope you give me some response if you like.

    Thanks.

    Richard
     
  10. Sound of Silence
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    Sound of Silence Member

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    The indefinate article is also use to refer to something for the first time:

    A six-year old girl was killed falling from a balcony.

    The indefinate then acts as kind of a cohesive device to 'glue' the rest of the sentences together. 'A' has opened up the discussion, and now the girl is known, the definate article (the) is used:

    A six-year old girl was killed falling from a balcony. The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons...

    So, maybe not introducing number here, the sentence you use is just introducing something for the first time:

    Egypt is an old country with a long history.

    Our use of english would then move into more indepth discussion on what the history is, so I can't really agree that it's a phrase. It's just our way of introducing the unknown, and then moving it into the known.
     

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