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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?' Commented Jul 5, 2022 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.) Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 3:04
  • But the Collins example goes without the article Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 1:50
  • @SergeyZolotarev Does my answer not explain why?
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 14:09
  • I don't think so. You said if it's a specific yellow, it should go with the article. Both examples, including the one with no article, mention a specific yellow Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 15:45

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