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Currently, I encountered some weird sentences. They are: "She went off on some errand."(from Collins) "We watched him plough on, northwards at incredible speed, until he vanished from sight."(from Good English 10-Frankenstein) "Obtain considerable proficiency."(from my teacher) I am really confused with this and wondering how do you native speakers think about that.

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"A[n]" is used as a determiner. In "some errand", the word "some" is also a determiner. The first example sentence "She went off on some errand." could have been expressed "She went off on an errand.", but the writer chose "some" instead, to intentionally express that the exact nature of the errand was of no interest.

Your next example, "sight", might have been expressed as "our sight", but "a sight" wouldn't make any sense. "Sight", in that use, is non-countable.

Your last example, "Obtain considerable proficiency.", is not an idiomatic sentence as you have quoted it. If the sentence were "You must continue to study until you have gained [a] considerable proficiency.", then "a" would be optional.

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  • Thank you for your cordial help. But there is still something confusing me. Firstly, why speak "some errand" rather than "some errands"? "Errand" is countable noun, if my memory serves me right. Still, in the second sentence it's "speed" but not "sight" that puzzled me. Thirdly, you said that "a" is "optional". To me, it means "a" could be omitted, but why? The sentence with "a" and the one without "a", are they both correct and fluent? Which one do you use more frequently? Thanks again. – TeaNut Apr 8 '20 at 14:00
  • He could have [ploughed] on northwards at an incredible speed. I'm not sure I have a preference there, nor can I see any possible nuance of difference in the meaning, with or without the article. – FumbleFingers Apr 8 '20 at 16:08
  • @user380521 Yes, errand is countable; the writer had no reason to choose plural "errands". It was what they were saying. My point was that using "some" is intentionally vague, an you can't use two determiners in a row: "a some". I agree with FFRM about the optional "an" referring to "incredible speed". It's like optional "a" with "considerable proficiency". The meaning is the same, and I wouldn't prefer one or the other. – Jack O'Flaherty Apr 8 '20 at 17:14

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