a high intelligence / a unique strength

magic dragon feeders

Senior Member
Japanese
I'd appreciate it if someone would answer my question. Thank you in advance.

I see "have a high intelligence" more often than "have high intelligence", and see "have a unique strength" more often than "have unique strength".
Although "intelligence" and "strength" are uncountable nouns, they can be calculated when an adjective is added. I'd like to know why.
I suppose an abstract noun, when an adjective is added, becomes unified and embodied, and begins to work as a common noun. Am I right?
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    When you qualify a noun with an adjective like "high", you distinguish one type of intelligence from another. Broad rules about whether a noun can be counted or not do not adequately describe what native English-speakers actually think and say. I can talk about somebody having "a high intelligence". When I do, I distinguish it from other classes of intelligence: a low intelligence, a mediocre intelligence, etc. This is unusual, but it is certainly possible.

    Your thoughts about abstract nouns becoming something more like common nouns sound reasonable to me.

    The general principle also applies to other nouns, such as "strength": a unique strength = a degree/type of strength unmatched by other degrees/types of strength
     

    taked4700

    Senior Member
    japanese japan
    I think it would be rather a matter of newness.

    You use "a" when introducing something new.

    I guess there are some nouns which can go with "a" but never be used in plural. Sorry I can't remember them now.

    It is very interesting that information and news never go with "a". I guess that is because information and news are always understood as something new. They are always new, which is the reason they cannot go with "a".
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I think it would be rather a matter of newness.
    There is something significant in what you say here, taked. In any sort of normal conversation, I would only use "a high intelligence" once in talk about my admiration for somebody: Why do you think she's so interesting? For one thing, she has an unusually high intelligence. I also admire... I sure wouldn't need to repeat that phrase later in my long-winded speech about why I liked her. If I rambled back to the point where it seemed important to me to mention her intelligence again, I'd use some different word or phrase to talk about it: her quick wit, her mathematical talent, etc.
     
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    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    There are also two kinds of noun: countable nouns and uncountable nouns.

    Uncountable nouns never have "a" or "the" before them.

    Countable nouns normally have "a" or "the" or some other word ("descriminator") before them.

    "Intelligence" can be used as either. "A high intelligence" is a countable noun. "High intelligence" is uncountable.

    We use the word "a" to show which one we are using. It does not have to be "someting new".
     

    magic dragon feeders

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    --Thank you owlman5.
    quote
    When you qualify noun with an adjective like "high", you distinguish one type of intelligence from another.

    Do you mean differentiation causes individualization and being counted?
    So how about "bad weather" and "good weather" / "dirty water" and "pure water"?
    Bad weather is distinguished from good weather, but doesn't need an indefinite article.
    Can why "a" is used in "a high intelligence" be explained only by the differentiation of types?

    By the way, I'd like to ask for your opinion about "there are possibilities ---" again.
    I'd like you to see, if you like, a new thread titled "possibilities again".
     
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    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    You are welcome. That's a good question, magic dragon feeders. "A good weather" sounds very unlikely in speech, but possible in literature, particularly literature written by an adventurous writer. "A pure/dirty water" sounds a little more likely to me. It would still be more likely in print than in speech, however.

    I think Taked's notion that "a/an X intelligence" is also affected by the novelty of the term also sounds reasonable. An unusual phrase like that is likely to draw special attention from a reader or a listener, and the speaker will probably not repeat it later in a text or conversation.
     

    magic dragon feeders

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    ---Thank you owlman5.

    quote
    I think Taked's notion that "a/an X intelligence" is also affected by the novelty of the term also sounds reasonable.

    I see your idea, but I'd like to know why "a/an X intelligence" is affected by the novelty of the term, while zero article intelligence isn't?


    Take an example; Do lower animals have intelligence?
    Here intelligence, not an intelligence, is new information to the listener or a reader.

    I think it's a matter of differentiation, not of the newness of information.

    I ask you again whether you mean differentiation causes individualization and being counted.
    In my opinion, by being qualified by an adjective, the range of intelligence becomes limited and less vague and easy to be seen as something unified and focused. That's why "the" is used. What do you think?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Take an example; Do lower animals have intelligence?
    Here intelligence, not an intelligence, is new information to the listener or a reader.

    I think it's a matter of differentiation, not of the newness of information.
    The novelty theory does make some sense if you consider the notion that I might say something about a friend and remark that he has "a high intelligence" the first time I talk about it, and then switch to "his high intelligence" later in the conversation. As I understand it, Taked's point was that he sees things like "I noticed a big white house" in a narrative when the narrator mentions it for the first time. Later the narrator switches to "the house".

    I mostly see the use of the indefinite article as a matter of differentiation, but Taked's notion, if I understand it correctly, could also have some role to play in my instinctive decisions about when to use "a", and when to drop it in a reference to some noun. The trouble with all of this analytical stuff is that it's really not conscious or deliberate in the spontaneous remarks of native speakers.

    The "rules" are absorbed and locked away deep in their minds long before they're old enough to analyze anything, which continues to amaze me even to this day. That information isn't new to me, but it always evokes a sense of wonder in me every time I think about it.
     
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