"a" Continental army

cheshire

Senior Member
Japanese
The Continental Congress named George Washington as commander in chief of a Continental army and sent him to help Boston.

Why is it "a" instead of "the"? Is it suggesting that there were other armies for the Continental 13 States during the War of American Independence?:confused:
 
  • GrandBlank

    Member
    English/U.S.
    I agree that this is confusing and misleading. To clarify further, I would say "the Continental Army" if I meant the specific army, wholly conceived in the mind, and "a continental army" if I meant the an army that would operate on the continent, but not yet fully conceived. That is the only situation that I can think of in which "a" could be used. In the end, "the Continental Army" is better.

    Click here to see an article from Wikipedia on the Continental Army. It referst to The Continental Army, with successive reorganizations, however.

    Regards.
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    The Continental Congress named George Washington as commander in chief of a Continental army and sent him to help Boston.

    Why is it "a" instead of "the"?
    Click here to see an article from Wikipedia on the Continental Army. It referst to The Continental Army, with successive reorganizations, however.

    Regards.

    From the link GrandBlank posted…

    On June 7, 1775, the Continental Congress decided to proceed with the establishment of a Continental Army for purposes of common defense. Referring to themselves as "the twelve United Colonies", (Province of Georgia was not yet represented), the Congress adopted forces already in place in Cambridge, Massachusetts as the first units of the Continental Army. On June 15, they then elected, by unanimous vote, George Washington as commander-in-chief.​

    He was appointed c-i-c of an as-yet-unestablished army. As it didn't fully exist the definite article would be inappropriate, I think.
     

    Hockey13

    Senior Member
    AmEnglish/German
    The Continental Congress named George Washington as commander in chief of a Continental army and sent him to help Boston.​

    Why is it "a" instead of "the"? Is it suggesting that there were other armies for the Continental 13 States during the War of American Independence?:confused:
    At this point "the" continental army did not yet exist, so continental was more of an adjective than a proper noun.
     

    cheshire

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    I got it, "Continental" is capitalized to mean "American Continent," whereas "a Continental army" on the whole is not specific but any army.

    Thank you!
     

    fenixpollo

    moderator
    American English
    Yes, cheshire, and... what the last two posts were saying is that "Continent" may refer specifically to the American Continent, and even to the English colonies.

    But the "a" implies that the idea of having an army for the English colonies was still an abstract and was not official. As maxiogee reminded us, the Congress had been, up until that time, only been talking about establishing a Continental army, but there was no army yet that could have been called "The" Continental Army.

    I think your original sentence is a little confusing, because if Congress had created the army, and it was now a concrete enough entity to choose its leader, then it should be referred to as The Continental Army. I think it was an error in judgment on the part of the author.

    Cheers.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    In late Colonial times Continental was the first word of nationality to arise as a replacement for Colonial, and it was most often a proper noun. We eventually settled on American instead, and the capitalization conventions are the same.

    A famous phrase is "a Continental soldier," for example. And there was another phrase for paper money, but I don't know for sure what the noun was-- it was shortened to "a Continental," and survives (as long as I do, anyway) in the phrase "not worth a Continental."

    In Congress at that time the debate was whether to assemble various State militias under one command-- or designate a standing Continental army. Up until the Civil War conservative thinkers were much against the idea of a professional "standing army," believing that we had no business making war overseas, and if ever there were a threat to our homeland we could muster fighting forces in all due haste-- provided the Second Amendment had not fallen into neglect and every household was armed and well-skilled in the use of arms.
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