Patience is a quality which he greatly admires

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aush

Member
Russian
Hi there!

I was reading this article Using English Articles (#13), by Dennis Oliver - Free English Grammar Lessons and this example confused me:

"Do not use articles before abstract nouns:

not this: *The patience is a quality which he greatly admires.

but this: Patience is a quality which he greatly admires."

How is the 'patience' different from the 'quality' in terms of being abstract? Why is it suggested to drop an article for the former and keep it for the latter one?
 
  • Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    It works for "quality" when "quality" comes first and is being used in the abstract:

    Quality is important in everything we do. (Not "The quality ...")
     

    aush

    Member
    Russian
    It works for "quality" when "quality" comes first and is being used in the abstract:

    Quality is important in everything we do. (Not "The quality ...")
    So, do you mean then, that in the example from the article "quality" is not being used in the abstract? How can I recognise when it does and when it doesn't?
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    Abstract: no article.
    Not abstract: article.

    Quality is what I look for first in products I buy. (Abstract)
    The quality I look for first in a friend is honesty. (Not abstract)

    Patience is something I like in a sales clerk. (Abstract)
    The patience of a saint is what that woman has. (Not abstract)
     

    aush

    Member
    Russian
    "Quality" is an abstract noun, correct? It cannot be abstract in some circumstances and non-abstract in others?

    So, do I understand you right? I should never use articles with abstract nouns. But when it is used in a 'noun-phrase' (not sure how to call it) like 'quality I look for first' I should apply articles to it according to regular rules. So, 'quality I look for first' is a concrete noun, so I should use the here. But in this case, shouldn't in your second example be 'A patience of a saint is what that woman has'? I understand that for a native speaker different level of abstractness are clear, but I'm looking for any anchors to understand it.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    I don't make up rules – or even quote existing ones, which I don't know, really – but I can offer some guidelines and others can add to them or correct me if I'm wrong.

    Quality can be either abstract and concrete.

    As for never using articles with abstract nouns, that sounds about right, although perhaps someone can show us an exception.

    And it is not "a patience of a saint," as though a saint has more than one type of patience and you are choosing one type, but "the patience of a saint." It is specifically the patience that a saint would have. It also helps that "the patience of a saint" is a set expression, but even if it weren't, you would use "the." It is a specific patience, a saintly patience. :)
     
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