1

Every English dictionary marks the word ‘composure’ as an uncountable noun. However, sometimes I come across sentences like this:

  1. They had a composure and self-confidence to them I've never found in other kids.
  2. He withstood all that with a composure and a steadiness that astonished us all.
  3. She has a composure bordering on serenity.
  4. …teaches us how to maintain a composure even after so many hardships in relations.
  5. …until showing a composure that we hadn’t previously given him credit for.
  6. …and he handled this with a composure uncommon to a fifteen-year-old.

How come an uncountable noun is used with the indefinite article?

  • 1
    A (kind of/a sort of) composure. – user070221 Dec 10 '17 at 20:27
  • I have found several dictionaries that list "composure" as both countable and uncountable, so you might want to include other references in your research library. – Andrew Dec 10 '17 at 20:39
  • If those 'several dictionaries' you've mentioned are online ones, I'd appreciate the links to them. – Voli Dec 10 '17 at 21:18
  • Any abstract noun with a like that, suggests to a native speaker that it is a kind of x. – Lambie Dec 11 '17 at 0:28
2

In these cases, each "composure" is a particular instance of composure. For example, in your first sentence, the composure is the instance of it that astonished us all.

In all cases except number 4, the composure is qualified with a subordinate clause. This is why we use a and don't treat it as an uncountable noun. The only exception to this is your number 4, which is ambiguous. In this case, the "a" implicitly refers to an instance of composure, but I were the writer's editor I would remove it.

This sort of thing happens a lot with uncountable nouns. Here are some examples:

I like water.
I especially like the water that comes from our well.
I like fish.
I particularly like the fish that we catch in our lake.
Piano soundboards are made of spruce.
Piano soundboards are made exclusively of the spruce that comes from Sitka, Alaska.

So, as soon as you qualify it, you are not talking about all of whatever uncountable thing you're referencing. As soon as you're not talking about all of it, it becomes countable.

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