A teacher is giving some information about the class at the very beginning.

"For this course you need the book. Here it is: British Life and Language Level 1 Student's Book. **So, please get a copy of the book. I don't want to see any photocopies of the book, thank you!"

I thought about the sentence "Please get a copy of the book." and wondered why the teacher did not simply say: "Please get the book."

Is the word "copy" redundant here? When you go to the shop, you'd say "THE GUARDIAN(newspaper) please", you wouldn't say "A COPY OF THE GUARDIAN PLEASE", would you?

So, there seems to be no need to say "a copy of the book", because it already means the book. There seems to be no difference betweeen "the book" and "the copy of the book", is there?

Any thoughts?

2 Answers 2


It's similar to the difference between "milk" and "a glass of milk". You can use the former pretty much any time you'd use the latter, but it contains less information. And yes, either version would work in your newspaper example too.

Of course there's not much more information to be had when you're talking about one copy and any copy of the book, but if you're talking about a specific number of copies or a copy with a specific quality, it often changes the meaning drastically or may even be necessary syntactically.


  • You don't need more than one copy of the book.
  • The publisher ordered 60,000 copies in the first printing.


  • Sorry, I think I have your copy by mistake!
  • I can't believe I got a signed copy of one of my favorite books.

The main information the word "copy" actually contributes to the sentence is that we're talking about a specific book. "Three books" could mean a copy of Jane Eyre, a copy of Huckleberry Finn, and a copy of Moby Dick, but "three copies" has to mean three of the same book.

So in a sentence where that already makes it clear that it's about a specific book, yes, it's optional. But it's also not wrong or awkward to include.


"A copy of a book" is idiomatic & comes from long before the days of photocopiers, let alone the internet & PDF files.

In this situation 'a copy' is your very own book, bought or borrowed.
You would ask an author "How many copies have you sold?". Each printed book you buy is a copy. There is no real 'original' in this, other than the author's first typed/handwritten manuscript. Every printed version is 'a copy'.

…and actually, by the same token, you certainly could ask for "a copy of the Guardian".

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