1

I would like to discuss the difference between the usage in these sentences below:

I was delayed by a traffic jam.
I was delayed by heavy traffic.

The second one is correct, based on a TOEFL test sample. I also wonder why the sentence below is incorrect in the test:

I was delayed by a heavy traffic

Both traffic jam and heavy traffic are objects. I know the preposition a must be put before traffic jam in this example, because the event is specific.

2

In the first example you were delayed by a jam, that is a hold-up when the traffic either doesn't move or creeps forward. Jam is a countable noun. You can have multiple jams or traffic jams.

In the second example you were delayed by traffic, an uncountable noun. We don't use a or an ahead of uncountable nouns. They can stand alone or be used with the definite article the.

(The) traffic was heavy; that's to say the roadway was very busy.

However there wasn't a hold up although your sentence indicates that the intensity of traffic had forced vehicles to slow down.

(https://www.grammarly.com/handbook/grammar/articles/9/indefinite-article-with-uncountable-noun/)

  • Regards Ronald, and thanks. If traffic is a system of moving vehicles, then i could say : 'I was delayed by a traffic (in town A)'. The traffic can be different for each region. If this is not the case, then i presume that 'traffic' is as similar as 'mathematics' in 'His graduation was delayed by difficult mathematics.' – Arief Anbiya Mar 25 '17 at 16:21
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    @Arief.an We don't use the indefinite articles a or an before uncountable nouns. For instance, you can say water had flooded the town or the water had flooded the town (but not a water). Thus, you can be delayed by a jam but not by a traffic although you can be delayed by the traffic. – Ronald Sole Mar 25 '17 at 16:28
  • Ronald, milk is uncountable (as liquid), but if it means as packaged milk, then it cam be counted. May i refer this Link . I presume traffic can be viewed as a unique system in a particular area. – Arief Anbiya Mar 25 '17 at 16:52
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    There are contexts in which an indefinite article can precede an uncountable noun: a fog of doubt, an air of puzzlement....and so on. But the general rule holds. The traffic refers to a system in a particular are: the traffic downtown. *Traffic can be used in any context: Traffic across the country/continent was affected by the weather. – Ronald Sole Mar 25 '17 at 17:16

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