Why is there an article in the first example and not in the second?

Oxfordlearnersdictionaries says that: [countable] a particular aspect or detail of something

He felt a grudging respect for her talents as an organizer.


He treats his grandparents with (a) great respect.



This is one case where usage has changed a bit over time, but with or without the article are both fine...

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It's obviously ridiculous to suppose that what people mean by the article/no article choice has somehow changed - it's entirely a stylistic choice. But if you want to swim with the tide of linguistic history, you can reasonably forget about including the article in your own utterances. Just don't go thinking that anyone who chooses otherwise is somehow "wrong".

Note that individual "abstract nouns" are different in this respect. For example, nobody would be likely to say I have fear of flying, and you'd very rarely encounter anything like The boss had an undue power over his secretary. But respect is more a two-way thing (not just if it's [a] mutual respect :)

  • I think you're right in general, but grudging respect still seems to be quite a bit more common with the article than without, which accords with my "ear" for the phrase. I'm not sure there's a good explanation why other than idiomatic tradition. – 1006a Feb 25 '19 at 18:20
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    @1006a: It seems that both you and Steve below still think there's some kind of semantic distinction involved - which I think is unlikely. As your chart clearly shows, there weren't even enough written instances of grudging respect to chart until about a century ago. By which time the article-less form had become dominant even with great respect, so with great (not grudging, I hope! :) respect I suggest the preferred version with grudging was simply following the "by-then-established" convention (whereas great actually had more "historical baggage" to overcome). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 25 '19 at 18:39
  • I agree with you—there's no semantic distinction involved. I haven't yet been convinced that there's always a logical way to determine which article, if any, is preferred in English with a given noun. (I recently read a book where the American characters kept talking about getting into the Juilliard, which was a strong tip-off that the author wasn't American—they're Australian—as we drop the article in the short form of the name even though it's in the full name). There's just "what sounds right", which as you've pointed out can shift. To my ear it's different for grudging vs great respect. – 1006a Feb 25 '19 at 18:56
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    I may be mistaken, but I think the general tendency is for constructions to be simplified over time, which to my mind automatically sets the stage for a to be discarded in the present context. I further think that (particularly, post-WW2) AmE has tended to become more conservative (at least among "competent" speakers), whereas BrE has become more willing to accept change (which we have to do more and more anyway, simply because of increased AmE dominance across all Anglophone societies). This I think accounts for many things I now often just call "stylistic choice". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 25 '19 at 19:06
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    ...it may also be that AmE prefers to include certain "noise words" (optional prepositions, etc.) even if they were never particularly historically favoured anyway. That's the impression I get by comparing AmE and BrE corpuses for spent all of his money. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 25 '19 at 19:14

Why there is an article in the first sentence is as FumbleFingers states; also:

Left by itself, respect is a noncount noun and cannot form a plural. This means respect can't be counted, just like weather is a noncount noun. Example: We don't say, "I have 13 respects for my Uncle an 93 for my Dad," or, "26 weathers will be arriving tomorrow." You either have respect for someone, or you don't. You can't count respect. You have weather. No article needed.

Confusion comes when respect has been made into a compound subject, like "grudging respect." For reasons Fumblefingers state, speakers of English treat respect as no longer general, but has become a specific kind of respect; a grudging respect. Like, some today say "We're in for a bad weather today," the article is not necessary, but people do it anyway today.

Rules for count nouns that can form a plural (like orange/oranges - an orange/the oranges) an article is required. "a" for consonants [a hotel; a car] and "an" for vowels [an elephant; an electric typewriter, etc., include those that sound like vowels {an L} sounds like "el" when spoken.]


Hope this helps.

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    Well, it's certainly true that the article is far less likely to be included in have [a] grudging respect - but that's at least partly because that particular adjective has become much more common recently (so it would tend to follow the modern "no article" form anyway). But you could just as easily contrast a great respect with a grudging respect, in that they're both adjectivally-modified. In which context I must just say that I don't think I've ever encountered have a scant respect for [someone/something]. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 25 '19 at 15:39
  • I think its regional (States). Quite common for us on this side of the pond to state "I have a scant respect for you, you no good, mumble fumbling buffoon," and no one stops to retort: "Excuse me, I may resemble that remark; but please, by all means, drop the article." Nice post, BTW. – user90322 Feb 25 '19 at 15:44
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    Well, that's 36 times I've seen the "articled" form in the past minute (1 from your comment, and 35 more in Google Books! :) But it's still small beer compared to GB's estimated 2,520 results for article-less have scant respect for. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 25 '19 at 16:01
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    Interestingly, the preference is far less marked (though still present) with have [a] scant regard for... I'm thinking that's partly because that particular usage (with regard) has become much less common over the past century or two, so it's more skewed towards including the article because that was the general tendency in Victorian and earlier English. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 25 '19 at 16:09
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    I'm not, and you are correct once again! Cheers! – user90322 Feb 25 '19 at 18:23

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