Friday, October 7, 2011

Articles of (Grammar) Faith

The surest way to identify a non-native speaker is by looking at their articles – a, an,  and the.  Russian does not have any articles, which mean Russian speakers often add them almost randomly.  Hebrew speakers only have the definitive one – the.   French use is similar, but with differences, including the requirement to place one before every noun in a list.  Compare the English I will take the fish, rice, and salad as compared to the French Je prendrai le poisson, le riz et la salade.
For a change, there are actually clear rules in English.
a.      All singular nouns must have an article, either the indefinite a (or an) or the definite the.
b.      Plural nouns if definite must be preceded by the; otherwise there is no article.
Examples: A friend of mine has the only copy of the book.  The books are important resources.
Exception:  Abstract nouns (uncountable to some of you) do not take articles:  You need patience and skill [in general] to succeed.  Since as abstract nouns, they can’t be plural, there is nothing to worry there.
Clarification: a and an
Contrary to what many have you been taught in school, the word an does NOT go before a vowel.  It goes before a VOWEL SOUND!
Appearances can be deceiving.  Some vowels (AEIOU) can SOUND like a consonant while some consonants can sound like a vowel.
An egg but A European egg:  The word European sound like [yu], meaning a consonant sound.
An ugly building at a university:  [u]gly as compared to [yu]niversity.
You’ll be a happy person in an hour:  The word happy has a voiced h, while hour doesn’t.
Police look for an MO:  You say [em] and therefore write an.
If you are unsure whether to write a or an, say the word.
If you are unsure whether to use an article, remember that unless the noun is plural and indefinite, there must be an article.
As they say in Hebrew, הבנת את זה. ברוך?  or, more seriously, if you explain it to me slowly, I’ll understand it quickly.

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