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English Grammar

English Grammar

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Denotes any one of a class.

188. The most frequent use of the indefinite article is to denote any one of a class or group of
objects: consequently it belongs to singular words; as in the sentence,²

Near the churchyard gate stands a poor-box, fastened to a post by iron bands and secured by a
padlock, with a sloping wooden roof to keep off the rain.²LONGFELLOW

Widens the scope of proper nouns.

189. When the indefinite article precedes proper names, it alters them to class names. The
qualities or attributes of the object are made prominent, and transferred to any one possessing
them; as,²

The vulgar riot and debauchery, which scarcely disgraced an Alcibiades or a Cæsar, have been
exchanged for the higher ideals of a Bayard or a Sydney.²PEARSON

With abstract nouns.

190. An or a before abstract nouns often changes them to half abstract: the idea of quality
remains, but the word now denotes only one instance or example of things possessing the quality.

Become half abstract.

The simple perception of natural forms is a delight.²EMERSON

If thou hadst a sorrow of thine own, the brook might tell thee of it.²HAWTHORNE

In the first sentence, instead of the general abstract notion of delight, which cannot be singular or
plural, a delight means one thing delightful, and implies others having the same quality.

So a sorrow means one cause of sorrow, implying that there are other things that bring sorrow.

Become pure class nouns.

NOTE.²Some abstract nouns become common class nouns with the indefinite article, referring
simply to persons; thus,²

If the poet of the "Rape of the Lock" be not a wit, who deserves to be called so?²THACKERAY.

He had a little brother in London with him at this time,²as great a beauty, as great a dandy, as
great a villain.²ID.

A youth to fortune and to fame unknown.²GRAY.

Changes material to class nouns.

191. An or a before a material noun indicates the change to a class noun, meaning one kind or a
detached portion; as,²

They that dwell up in the steeple,...Feel a glory in so rollingOn the human heart a stone.²POE.

When God at first made man,Having a glass of blessings standing by.²HERBERT.

The roofs were turned into arches of massy stone, joined by a cement that grew harder by
time.²JOHNSON.

Like the numeral adjective one.

192. In some cases an or a has the full force of the numeral adjective one. It is shown in the
following:²

To every room there was an open and a secret passage.²JOHNSON.

In a short time these become a small tree, an inverted pyramid resting on the apex of the other.²
THOREAU.

All men are at last of a size.²EMERSON.

At the approach of spring the red squirrels got under my house, two at a time.²THOREAU.

Equivalent to the word each or every.

193. Often, also, the indefinite article has the force of each or every, particularly to express
measure or frequency.

It would be so much more pleasant to live at his ease than to work eight or ten hours a day
BULWER

Compare to Sec. 184.

Strong beer, such as we now buy for eighteenpence a gallon, was then a penny a gallon
FROUDE

With such, many, what.

194. An or a is added to the adjectives such, many, and what, and may be considered a part of
these in modifying substantives.

How was I to pay such a debt?²THACKERAY.

Many a one you and I have had here below.²THACKERAY.

What a world of merriment then melody foretells!²POE.

With not and many.

195. Not and never with a or an are numeral adjectives, instead of adverbs, which they are in
general.

Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note.²WOLFE

My Lord Duke was as hot as a flame at this salute, but said never a word.²THACKERAY.

NOTE.²All these have the function of adjectives; but in the last analysis of the expressions,

such, many, not, etc., might be considered as adverbs modifying the article.

With few or little.

196. The adjectives few and little have the negative meaning of not much, not many, without the
article; but when a is put before them, they have the positive meaning of some. Notice the
contrast in the following sentences:²

Of the country beyond the Mississippi little more was known than of the heart of Africa.²
MCMASTER

To both must I of necessity cling, supported always by the hope that when a little time, a few
years, shall have tried me more fully in their esteem, I may be able to bring them together.²

KEATS'S LETTERS.

Few of the great characters of history have been so differently judged as Alexander.²SMITH,

History of Greece

With adjectives, changed to nouns.

197. When the is used before adjectives with no substantive following (Sec. 181 and note), these
words are adjectives used as nouns, or pure nouns; but when an or a precedes such words, they
are always nouns, having the regular use and inflections of nouns; for example,²

Such are the words a brave should use.²COOPER.

In the great society of wits, John Gay deserves to be a favorite, and to have a good place.²
THACKERAY

Only the name of one obscure epigrammatist has been embalmed for use in the verses of a

rival.²PEARSON.

Exercise.²Bring up sentences with five uses of the indefinite article.

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