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Here's an example half-sentence from Collins

...wallpaper with stripes of dingy yellow.

Here's an example sentence from Cambridge

Her hair was a dingy brown colour.

Why do they use an article in the second instance but not in the former?

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1 Answer 1

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This question is about how to follow the rules of countability with colour words.

The word "colour" here is a countable noun, so we have to use "a".

With actual colour words like "yellow", "red", etc., things are a bit different. They can be treated as countable or uncountable, with slightly different meanings.

If you treat a colour as uncountable, as in your first example, it refers to the range of colours included in the word as a mass noun, rather than one specific tone.

Colour words can also be used in a countable way. This refers to one specific tone of the colour, not the entire range:

...wallpaper with stripes of a dingy yellow

So in this example, the stripes are of a specific variety of yellow, which happens to be dingy.

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  • My UK mother, a gifted dressmaker, with a background in retail drapery, used to say of things, e.g.: 'I wonder if they have it in a green?' Jul 5 at 15:58
  • @MichaelHarvey I think that's still common and not limited to colors. For example: "I need that shirt in a large, but the store only has small." (The use of an article for the first size but not the second suggests that there are some subtleties here.) Jul 6 at 3:04

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