a = one / one of many

Dwishiren

Senior Member
Indonesia
1. I have a press coference today.
2. There is a phone call to you.
3. Muharram is a month of remembrance and modern Shia
meditation that is considerd synonymous with Ashura.

Hi everyone. Do you think that "a" here mean "one" or "one of many"? one press conferece, one phone call, one month or one of many presss conferences, one of many phone calls, of many months?
 
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I think the OP meant "one from many" i.e. one non-specific <item>

    Likewise in 3, Muharram is the name of a month and Ashura is a particular day: In Western terms, "Muharram is a month of remembrance and modern Shia meditation that is considerd synonymous with Ashura." can be paralleled as "December is a month of shortened daylight that is considered synonymous with Christmas."
     
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    Dwishiren

    Senior Member
    Indonesia
    Yes, I always think that "a" means "one of many" because most natives often explain to me that "a press conference", a month, it could be "one of many conferences", one of many months. That's why I'm a bit perplexed. I'm wondering which one is exactly correct, a = one or one of many?
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    In all three of your examples you're thinking of one specific thing. What is true of Muharram is not true of any other month. Some specific person (even if you don't know who) is currently waiting on the other end of the phone for you to answer. So, although other phone calls have been made in the last 100 years or so, you aren't talking about any of those others.

    'A' can also be used of specific things that can be one of several or many: for example, January is a winter month in the northern hemisphere. (But so are December and February.) I had a meeting every day this week. (You can say what Monday's meeting was about and who was in it, likewise Tuesday's . . .)

    But it can also be non-specific: Whenever I have a meeting, I take a pen and notebook. (I'm not talking about this meeting or meeting.) Such uses are typically multiple, but you can talk about a non-specific single thing: I'm looking for a better job. (If I get it, I won't then look for a second one.)
     

    Dwishiren

    Senior Member
    Indonesia
    For example: I went to the seaside during my summer holiday. The Severn is a river. Why use "a river"? A native speaker answers: because it's an example of one river, but there are many rivers. I then imagine, if there are many rivers, where are they? Here is what my confusion lies.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The speaker isn't thinking of any others. The speakers isn't saying, in effect, 'I have several rivers in mind, but the one I mean is the Severn.' Usually, when someone says 'the' (singular), there is only that one, but when they say 'a', there is more than one. This is what the explanation you've been given means, I think. If you go into a shop and decide to buy a blue shirt, there are (presumably) many blue shirts (there on sale in the shop); if you decide to buy the blue shirt, then that one shirt can be picked out: it's the only blue one. But here, of course shops have many shirts (usually). In the world outside, of course there are many rivers, but not here (if we're near the River Severn). Somewhere in the world there are others, so we use 'a', but we're not thinking of them or comparing them.
     
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