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QUESTION #9 - USING INDEFINITE ARTICLE WITH ABSTRACT NOUNS


GREEN LEAF L
Date: [this is an updated old posting, previous to LSEG4 edition]
Q9: ". . . I wish to understand the correct use and/or omission of the 'indefinite article' in this example:

The student has sound knowledge of the curriculum.
The student has
a sound knowledge of the curriculum.

Which use is correct and why? There has been a lot of discussions among educators. Some say the indefinite article 'a' is necessary when it is followed by an adjective; others feel that 'a' is optional, and both versions are acceptable . . ."

From V M - Ontario, Canada

A9. Both sentences above are widely/commonly used, and both are grammatically correct. In the first example:

        The student has sound knowledge of the curriculum.

The noun "knowledge" is an uncountable abstract noun having only the singular meaning. Rule M2.2 in LSEG4 says: "The nouns having a general or an abstract meaning take no article." Similar nouns are: joy, hunger, love, friendship, realism, etc. Please study "Table M1.1: Categories of Nouns Based on Counting" and particularly "Table M1.2: Forming the Plural of the Nouns" in LSEG4.

In addition, the ATTENTION note in "Table M2.2: Nouns Taking no Article" says: "Nouns take no article in order to highlight either their 'general character', or their 'unique individuality'. However, when the general/unique character disappears, some of the above examples may take the definite/indefinite article." (For examples please consult LSEG4.)

In the second example:

        The student has a sound knowledge of the curriculum.

"Table M2.3: Using Indefinite Article" in LSEG4 says: "The indefinite article is used with uncountable nouns in order to suggest the idea of 'a kind of'." (For examples please consult LSEG4.)

Although it is correct grammatically, the second example has a bit confusing meaning, when it is compared to the first example. In the second example, "the student has a sound knowledge" sounds accentuated, a bit emphatic, and the meaning is rather confusing. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid the second form of expression related to the noun "knowledge". [ATTENTION: although it is a bit emphatic, and rather confusing, the second form of expression is the most popular one in spoken language!]

Note that other abstract nouns may be accompanied by indefinite article without problems:

        Jane used to display an extravagant Italian elegance
.
        John had an incredible thirst for knowledge.

NOTE
General meaning nouns, abstract nouns, plus unique nouns take no article. However, when an abstract noun is pre-determined by an adjective, it loses its total/perfect abstract quality, therefore it becomes a common group/category/kind, and it also allows the definite/indefinite article ahead.

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