A Marxist book, an anarchist's guide, attacks on the institution of the family, songs celebrating illegal drugs, films and television plays celebrating physical violence, or showing crime as justifiable or successful, can and do become, whatever their varying cultural sources profitable commodities in a market within a state which official (and no doubt within the terms of its insoluble contradiction really) disapproves of or opposes all these things.

(Raymond Williams quoted by Alan O'Connor (source))

In this example, both 'Marxist book' and 'anarchist's guide' are noun adjuncts that modify the plural noun 'attacks', and I assume that any article that proceeds should agree with this main noun. That is why I cannot understand why it is a and an if the main noun is 'attacks', plural. Could you explain this to me, please?

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    They don't modify "attacks". They seem to be floating with no particular function or connection. What is the source for this quote? It seems to be incorrect. The reason for the article is because the noun is "book" which is singular. It does need the source of the quote and the full context, or it should be closed as unanswerable
    – James K
    Nov 26, 2023 at 22:06
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    Okay it took a bit of searching, but I found it... And you have misquoted. Or correctly quoted a misquote. google.co.uk/books/edition/Raymond_Williams/… page 72
    – James K
    Nov 26, 2023 at 22:08

2 Answers 2


You have misquoted. The full quote has a long list of things that "can and do become profitable commodities"

Consider the following example

A cat, a dog, some chickens, lived together on a farm.

The nouns "A cat" and "a dog" don't modify "some chickens" as noun adjuncts. They are elements of a list of animals. It would be clearer if I had used "and some chickens".

Your sentence is the same. There is a long list of things that a capitalist state might disapprove of. You have the first three, and cut the rest. All these things can become commodities (or so Raymond Williams claims).

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    I don't think the excerpt is exactly "misquoted". Apart from failing to include a comma after the last item in the list (not an "Oxford comma" in this case, but certainly desirable from my perspective), it's a perfectly reasonable shortened version of the full somewhat tortuous original. Nov 27, 2023 at 1:21
  • I disagree. Perhaps as a native speaker you are able to make the judgement that cutting a chunk of a sentence is a reasonable shortening. The English Learner is not in a position to do that. So a quote must be exact, even if it is tortuous! If anything is cut then it is essential that this is acknowledged (for example by [...]) and a link to the full version is given. As it stands the sentence in the question is an unsourced misquote. @FumbleFingers
    – James K
    Nov 27, 2023 at 19:38

The sentence as quoted is poorly worded. It is not clear if the writer's intent was, "A Marxist book, an anarchist guide, AND attacks on the institution of the family, can ...", or, "A Marxist book OR an anarchist guide, WHICH ARE attack on the institution of the family, can ..." In the first case the verb should be plural, as it is listing 3 things that do this. In the second case the verb should be singular, as it is listing 2 things, either of which could do this.

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