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Could you please explain to me why we can use the indefinite article with plural words in the case with woods? I'm puzzled because I have come across this in The Times.

She was found in a woods near...

  • in the case of – Mv Log Sep 6 '18 at 19:27
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Sometimes woods has a singular meaning (a dense growth of trees) and then yes, you can use the indefinite or definite article.

The phrase the woods is understood rather like "the dentist" or "the doctor"; it does not have to refer to a particular woods:

There are dangerous animals in the woods.

In the more than a decade that has rolled by since that day, I have reached the point where I will hardly consider a woods early in the grouse season unless it is fenced off, serves as summer pasture for cows, and the walking is easy.

But if you have visited an area that has enough trees and bushes so that you couldn't be seen in there by anyone on the outside, you may think of that area as a woods when you answer this questionnaire.

Even if your child has seen only a shadowy grove of ten trees in the park, when you call it a woods, she will get the symbolic meaning of “woods.”

Then the survivors, most of them wounded, got up and ran to a woods.

Or this one as used by the lexicographers at the Middle English Dictionary for the noun wọ̄de:

(e) in phrases, cpds., and combs. denoting portions or constituent parts of woods: ~ bough (ris, wonde), coll. forest boughs, the forest canopy; ~ egge (eves, hem, rime, side), wodes eves (side), the edge of a forest, border or margins of a woods [see also side n. 3b.(c)]; wode(s ende, an outlying portion of a woods, edge of a forest; ~ shaue, q.v.; wodes shaue, shaue of the ~, a dense forest thicket, forest canopy; ~ wei, q.v.; wodes wei, a woodland road or path, forest track;
(my emphases)

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    It sounds a bit off-kilter to me, tbh; especially for The Times [which I'm assuming is the UK Times]. I'd have expected 'a wood' or 'the woods'. I'm not saying 'it's wrong' as I'm not absolutely certain, but it doesn't feel right. – Tetsujin Sep 6 '18 at 19:11
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    @Tetsujin That might well be the reason why you and user Michael Harvey think it's awkward, because I've found zero attestations of a woods in BNC (BrE), while there are around 70 in COCA (AmE) – the problem is, COCA is larger than BNC so that's not definitive. There are no instances of a woods anywhere in the OED, while they abound in Webster's dictionary. The OED (second edition) also says out of the woods (with an s) is restricted to US English. (I don't think that's the case anymore but it might be indicative of something.) – userr2684291 Sep 6 '18 at 20:10
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    @Tetsujin Singular woods was quite common where I grew up. It may have been "dialectal", but was literary and as well as colloquial: my father, a professor of English, used it. I can recall being taken aback when I encountered a wood in the British books I read as a child. – StoneyB Sep 6 '18 at 20:13
  • Tᴚoɯɐuo should credit the origin of his/her quote, the August 1969 issue of the (US) magazine, Field and Stream. "A woods" is vanishingly rare in British English. – Michael Harvey Sep 6 '18 at 20:35
  • See also english.stackexchange.com/questions/131636/…, the only question on ELU that deals with this matter from what I could find. – userr2684291 Sep 6 '18 at 21:08
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Woods is overwhelmingly a plural noun meaning a forested area. We would need a good reason to defy this and use an indefinite article, although the usage is not strictly incorrect.

Into the woods (Grammarphobia)

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    Nevertheless, A thick woods runs along the boundary of the estate. (Merriam-Webster's Advanced Learner's Dictionary) – Mv Log Sep 6 '18 at 19:28
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    Nevertheless? Why use that? – Michael Harvey Sep 6 '18 at 19:38
  • Obviously, if you say: He went into the woods, it means a particular woods where he is/lives, etc. Ergo, a woods does make sense, as it is undefined. "There was a woods near my house in x". – Lambie Sep 6 '18 at 20:05
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    A bit different questions, but may be relevant after all – Mv Log Sep 6 '18 at 20:09
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    In Britain, if you said "There is a woods near my house", people would say "Are you foreign? Do you mean 'there are some woods near my house', or 'there is a wood near my house'? – Michael Harvey Sep 6 '18 at 20:32

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