In Memento (2000), Leonard speaks about Mrs Jankins's feelings on Sammy Jankins:

Leonard: She knew beyond a doubt that he loved her.

Is the article "a" required before doubt"?

  • Yes, it may be so. Though, it is not possible to infer it from a single sentence. A wider context usually determines whether to put the article or not in such a case.
    – kngram
    Jan 10 at 19:35

It's not required, and NGram shows it's more common not to use the article.

Dictionaries seem to vary a bit - Collins favors beyond doubt and redirects beyond a doubt to beyond the shadow of a doubt, Dictionary.com only has beyond a doubt, and TFD lumps both together as beyond (a) doubt.

  • There's also 'beyond any doubt' I've no idea which may be more common, but all sound idiomatic to me. Jan 10 at 15:45
  • Your Ngrams link doesn't work for me (strings in Ngrams shouldn't have quotes around them). Interestingly, if you look specifically for "knew beyond...", then "a doubt" is more common. Americans seem to prefer the article, Brits no article.
    – stangdon
    Jan 10 at 16:05
  • @stangdon interesting - the link doesn't work, but just hitting Enter in the search field does perform the search (and gives a different graph with much fewer occurences). I've fixed it now. Jan 10 at 16:09

I would say yes, when used in the singular "doubt" requires an article.

"Doubt" is a fuzzy sort of count noun. You can say:

  • I have a doubt.
  • I have some doubts.
  • I have many doubts.
  • I know beyond the shadow of a doubt.

But we don't ever enumerate the exact number of doubts:

  • (*) I have two doubts.
  • (*) I have one doubt.

Instead we use another noun, such as "two concerns."

So in most cases there needs to be some kind of article before "doubt." However you can sometimes get away with saying "beyond doubt" and "without doubt"—but inserting the indefinite article would sound fine too.

  • Actually, you can find some uses of "have one doubt". But I suspect that it's used rhetorically precisely because it's so uncommon.
    – stangdon
    Jan 10 at 17:40
  • 1
    I suspect that many of those instances are the use of doubt specific to Indian English, meaning "query, issue".
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 10 at 18:09
  • No one should enumerate the exact 'number of doubts' which exist in nature' to decide whether the indefinite article is necessary or not. If you either your educated companion or a reader are confident that there are several sorts of doubts, the grammar requires to put the article. Or, in other words: such chain of reasoning transforms an abstract uncountable noun into an abstract noun under consideration that the types of meaning are countable.
    – kngram
    Jan 11 at 4:09

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