Is "how is this a syllabus" correct? Can I use the article "a" in that question?

The situation is following: I've asked my son's history teacher to provide his teaching plan for this year. He sent to me a paper describing his teaching methods instead. Perhaps, it's a mistake. So I am writing a letter to him and asking him a simple question: "How is this a syllabus? It looks more like description of your teaching style instead."

So, is "a" in there okay?

  • 11
    Yes, that has exactly the meaning you want; but be aware that this is a confontational way of expressing it (which may be what you intend). The implication is something like "there is no way that this can possibly be a syllabus", and suggests unspoken things like "you must be an idiot to send it".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 15:21
  • I agree with Colin! The grammar is fine, but if you do not intend to be a little bit rude - or express that you are maybe slightly angry - say something like "Is the this syllabus? I expected a description of the curriculum, but this looks more like a description of your teaching style." If you wanted to soften it further, you could say "Apologies, but is actually the syllabus...." It does not indicate you are actually apologizing for any particular thing.
    – BadZen
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 16:09

1 Answer 1


Your statement sounds rude and confrontational to be honest. You could think of pursuing a more considerate approach as follows:

My apologies, but this doesn't look like a syllabus. This is more like your teaching methods in the class. Do you mind sending the correct document again?

However, if you are willing to stick to your approach, I must say, there is no mistake. The article must be present to indicate the sent document is not the correct one you are looking for.

  • It's more common to say "confrontational"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 8:18
  • Thanks @Mari-LouA Adjective, not the verb form. I definitely get confused sometimes. Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 21:29

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