I'm reading English Grammar in Use and I came up with some silly questions.

Why do English people use "a" or "an" in the first place? This is odd because we, in our language, don't have the same thing. for example: in our language, if a child wants an apple, he would say: "I want apple". Nobody asks whether he wants one ("an") or more than one. Daddy goes and buys half a kilogram of apples and gets back.

OR "She never wears a hat". When you hear this sentence, Do you think of She never wears "one" hat? What is the problem with: She never wears hat? What makes use "a hat"?
OR Someone unaware once said: "Tom's father is a docter. Oh, A docter? if they didn't mention, I would have thought Tom's father is three docters!

Last question. In the book I'm reading, there is sentence like this, what is its problem?
Those are nice chairs.(not some nice chairs)-----why?


I'm not sure there is any answer to your question other than "Because that is the way English is."

The article a/an indicates "an example of the type". So for example, "a doctor" is "a single example of the type of doctor". So yes, there are many cases where it doesn't matter, like "She is wearing _ hat", because it wouldn't really change the meaning either way.

But there are many cases where the presence or lack of an article does change the meaning and allows to be more or less precise as we choose:

  • I would like pie. : I would like an unspecified quantity of the material "pie". Maybe I want one slice, maybe I want many slices, maybe I just want the existence of pie in general.
  • I would like a pie. : I would like one singular pie.
  • Tom's father is king. : Tom's father has the title of "King" in the context we are talking about (and is presumably the only one).
  • Tom's father is a king. : Tom's father is one of many kings.

Obviously languages vary a lot, and people can manage with virtually anything. But your lack of articles seems weird to English speakers. When the child says "I want apple", how does Daddy know whether the child wants any one apple or half a kilogram of apples or a specific apple? If you say "Dog chases cat", how do you know if you're talking about one specific dog and cat, or dogs and cats in general, or characters named Dog and Cat? Presumably you can specify that in some way if you want to...but that's exactly what English does with articles.

  • About "I want apple", I think it's one of those cases that articles don't matter like you said for "She never wears hat". Child says I want apple, and quantity isn't necessary. It looks like your language cares about quantity. In my language, you desire or wish for something. for example, in a jungle, you say, I want cigarette in this weather. nobody cares 4 cigarettes or a packet of cigarettes. All you need is cigarette. by the way, how do say something is for that moment. do you use fit?!! for example, a cup of tea really fits in this weather – Sir Meysam Ferguson Oct 23 '17 at 13:26
  • I think it totally matters whether you want an apple or 50 kilos of apples or just apples in general! But maybe my language has just conditioned me to think that, and your language has conditioned you to think it doesn't... – stangdon Oct 23 '17 at 16:31
  • @stangdon I think your answer would be stronger if you also pointed out the contrast between "a pie" and "the pie". I think that's a big part of the reason the language does this, and would help clarify it further. – JKreft May 30 '18 at 12:13

Because the word "a" is part of English and "She wears hat" is not syntactically correct English.

Whether the "rules" are logical or necessary isn't really a useful question. Most languages have things that a smart language designer would remove: French has a system of gender, Japanese has a complex system of politeness honour, English has a requirement for an article to be placed in front of certain nouns. These things are not logical or even very useful. English works fine without a politeness marker. Japanese has neither gender nor articles.

So when someone says "Tom's father is a doctor" they are not using "a" to clarify some ambiguity about the number of fathers that Tom has, it is because English requires that you put it there.

It doesn't seem odd to me, as a native speaker, to use articles. When looked at I'm aware that every natural language has oddities. Your language (Persian?) has things that a learner would find odd (why do adjectives follow nouns, but superlative forms of adjectives precede nouns?)

(The last question: "Those are nice chairs", and "Those are some nice chairs" are both correct and mean the same)

  • So, you are saying that articles are somehow strangeness and oddities of English language? Is it normally odd to native speakers? or when you think about it, like seeing posts like mine, you think it is odd. – Sir Meysam Ferguson Oct 23 '17 at 8:46
  • And about some: "I've seen some good movies recently" NOT "I've seen good movies recently". another example of book – Sir Meysam Ferguson Oct 23 '17 at 8:49
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    @SirMeysamFerguson - Articles don't seem the least bit odd to native English speakers, because we grew up with them. I'm sure your first language has many features that seem strange to non-native speakers too! – stangdon Oct 23 '17 at 11:41
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    @JamesK - Arguably, Japanese has a kind of grammatical gender too (noun classifiers), although it's not usually thought of as such, and Japanese people will strenuously deny it. Until you ask them to say "five pencils" and then "five humans" and then "five tickets" and ask why they're not all counted the same way, but why "five pencils" are counted like "five railroads". Then they wince and admit there is something to that... – stangdon Oct 23 '17 at 11:48
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    @stangdon that's true, then again English speakers will deny having a gender system, but ask them why you say "How much rice" but "How many chips". The count/non-count distinction is a proto-gender distinction. – James K Oct 23 '17 at 13:21

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