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Can anybody explain to me the use of the indefinite article in the following sentences:

  1. She had a great zest for life.
  2. The danger of being caught added a certain zest to the affair.

"Zest" is a non-count noun, of course.

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On the broader point, adjectives are partitive. Green apples are a particular type of apples in the category of all apples. Green apples are part of all apples.

The same thing applies with uncountable nouns.

A little/deep/good/wide/slight/simple, etc., knowledge.

Zest = the entire category of things that can be described as "zest".

Certain (adj.) = a particular type of

A/an = an example of [a/an]

So "a certain zest" is not all things that can be described as "zest" but only a an example of a part of the category of "zest".

There are many parts to the entirety of "zest" and a certain zest is one example of one of those categories.

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  • Thanks, Grey beard, for a nice answer. If is understand correctly the adjectives in my sentences make it possible to use the indefinite article with "zest." But can we make it a rule and apply to all mass nouns? For example, "I'm drinking a fresh water," "I need to add a wheat flower to make the dough better," "We've got a delicious pork for dinner today." – Lucas Mar 13 at 20:52
  • you would not say "I'm drinking a fresh water," "I need to add a wheat flower to make the dough better," "We've got a delicious pork for dinner today." The "a" denotes a singular whilst you do not need to do that "I'm drinking fresh water," "I need to add wheat flower to make the dough better," "We've got pork for dinner today." P.S. Be careful how you describe things "delicious" how do you know it is? have you already eaten it? – Brad Mar 14 at 2:29
  • Brad, the "a" denotes countability, not being singular - all of the mass nouns in my sentences are singular. And yeah I might have eaten the pork already or have just a feeling it's going to be delicious - why you have a problem with that? – Lucas Mar 14 at 3:27

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