5

Mr. Dursley hummed as he picked out his most boring tie for work, and Mrs. Dursley gossiped away happily as she wrestled a screaming Dudley into his high chair. (Harry Potter)

Why is ‘a’ put, although the Dursleys have only child? Is it implying one of the Dursleys?

10

"A" in this situation is just one way you can refer to a person that is in some particular state. In other words, you can attach an adjective to that person and use "a" to refer to him/her. This is not, therefore, something that refers explicitly to family, and in fact in almost every other situation it would be wrong to say "a Dudley." I imagine that the reason that it's ok to use "a" in this context is because it refers to one of potentially many "different" Dudleys, so you can have a happy Dudley, a sad Dudley, a sleeping Dudley, or even a screaming Dudley. Using "a" like this also lets you keep the word order how you want it. For example, say the author really wanted to keep the phrase "screaming Dudley." There is no other way to say it; the sentence structure would have to be changed to something like "as she wrestled Dudley, who was screaming, into his high chair." The original just sounds better in this situation.

  • Is there a reason you can't say "...as she wrestled screaming Dudley..."? – Steve Bennett Aug 10 '14 at 11:51
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    One quibble: You could say "a Dudley" to refer to one of many people named Dudley, or one of many people of many different names. Like, "The People Named Fred club meeting officially began when a Fred stood up and gave the opening speech." Or, "You can tell how ethnically diverse our company is just by looking at a list of names: we have a Bob, a Francois, two Venkatas, and an Ivanovna." – Jay Mar 30 '15 at 13:53
  • @SteveBennett As a native speaker of (American) English, I would judge that one could say screaming Dudley (no article). – GoDucks Jan 5 '16 at 16:25
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"Dudley", as you know, is usually used as a proper noun, not a common noun. Most proper nouns don't take articles, so why insert one?

The simplest analysis is that inserting an adjective converts Dudley into a common noun. In other words, "Dudley" starts representing the class of Dudleys: an angry Dudley, a pacified Dudley, a sullen Dudley, and so on. This device has a long history and is mostly used in writing; it is most commonly used to divide a person into personalities (as above) or into ages (e.g. "a young Rembrandt").

As a common-noun phrase, "screaming Dudley" can take either the definite article "the" or the indefinite article "a". The rules for this are the same as for any other common noun.

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No. In this case the author is using artistic licence by using "a" to turn the verb screaming into an adjective of the noun Dudley.

The sentence is equivalent to the following:

Mr. Dursley hummed as he picked out his most boring tie for work, and Mrs. Dursley gossiped away happily as she wrestled Dudley, who was screaming, into his high chair.

  • 2
    I think not. Screaming is already an adjective, a participle; it doesn't need an article to convert it. – StoneyB Feb 22 '13 at 5:53

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