'A/an' before an abstract noun preceded by an adjective

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Englishmypassion

Senior Member
India - Hindi
Hi everybody,
I read in a grammar book that an abstract noun preceded by an adjective takes 'a' or 'an' before it if it is not followed by a relative clause. For example, 'This disease often causes death' but 'He died a peaceful death'. But I find too many exceptions (if they are so) to this rule and wonder if it is actually a rule or I read the book in a dream! 'A' or 'an' is missing in the phrases 'with great force', 'good news', 'cold weather', 'at high speed', etc. Would you please enlighten me on it? Thanks.
 
  • Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    You need to put phrases into sentences to make sense of them. It's impossible to comment on your examples without context.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Let us be clear: neither 'This disease often causes death' nor 'He died a peaceful death'. has a relative clause in it.

    Some guidance:
    1. All singular countable nouns must be preceded by a determiner. (A/an, the, any, this, that, etc.)
    2. Abstract nouns are often, but not always, uncountable.
    3. Some uncountable nouns are plural (scissors, news, trousers, goods) plural nouns cannot be preceded by a/an.
    4. Uncountable nouns can be strongly uncountable (guidance, advice, jewellery, information, evidence, weather etc) These are virtually never used in the plural and only preceded by 'much', never 'many'.
    5. Uncountable nouns can be weakly uncountable (death, life, love, opinion, coffee, milk, etc.) These may be preceded by much or many or a/an. If preceded by a/an they are considered countable.
    6. a/an can precede a weakly uncountable noun if there is an adjective between a/an and the weakly uncountable nouns. (A little knowledge; a regrettable death, etc.)

    It is the above guidance that controls the ability of a noun to be preceded by a/an.
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Yes, there is obviously no relative clause in any of the examples above. I quoted the first two sentences containing 'death' to show how 'death' becomes 'a peaceful death'-- this is how the book explained it. I've got the point. The rule applies to only weakly uncountable nouns and not to strongly uncountable-- they always remain uncountable. Thanks a lot, sir.
     

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    Your book's explanation is clearly wrong. For example, let us consider the sentence "This disease often results in death". You can easily add an adjective to that without adding an article: This disease often results in sudden death.

    Likewise, you can easily add an adjective to "We hope the negotiations produce peace" and get "We hope the negotiations produce lasting peace."
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Your book's explanation is clearly wrong. For example, let us consider the sentence "This disease often results in death". You can easily add an adjective to that without adding an article: This disease often results in sudden death.

    Likewise, you can easily add an adjective to "We hope the negotiations produce peace" and get "We hope the negotiations produce lasting peace."
    And in both these sentences we could use article "a" as well, right? (a sudden death, a lasting peace)...
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Oh, 'a sudden death' occurred to me also and I wanted to ask about it but being in awe of a native speaker made me think it was just another confusion of mine!
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I'd hesitate to say categorically that it's wrong, but I certainly can't think of one that would work in the construction "What a/an ... !"
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Sir DonnyB, as you said you wouldn't say categorically it's wrong, I have found this quotation by Anton Chekhov: “What a fine weather today! Can’t choose whether to drink tea or to hang myself.”
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    That quotation is presumably a translation from the original Russian and is also anything up to 150 years old.

    I doubt that a native speaker would say it in modern English. :)
     
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