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I came across the sentence (PEU, talking about future events)

We can use the future perfect to say that something will be completed or achieved by a certain time.

Why did Swan use a here? I thought we never use a with non-count nouns and since time is non-count we shoudn't use indefinite article before it. Couldn't you explain that?

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    I had similar question in my mind once upon a time :)
    – Maulik V
    Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 12:50

2 Answers 2

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We can use the future perfect to say that something will be completed or achieved by a certain time.

time here is a count noun: meaning a moment in time or a point in time.

See ODO, definition 2.1, and the example sentences.

Another example:
I will have finished editing this post by an unknown time in the future.

I will have finished editing this post by some point in the future.

To make it more definite:

It is now 0510 UTC on 05 Dec 2014. I will have finished editing this post by 0515 UTC.

Before it gets to be 0515 UTC, I will have finished editing this post.

(Using will: I will finish editing this post by 0515 UTC.)


Time as a count nount can also mean an indefinite period of time (ODO 2.3).

Here is a famous English text that illustrates time as a count noun. In this case, time means indefinite period of time (see ODO for synonyms such as interval, stretch, season.) I include it, because of it shows over and over time preceded by the indefinite article. :)

Ecclesiastes 3 King James Version (KJV)

1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

And here is a popular song that uses these lyrics:

The Byrds - 'Turn, Turn, Turn' (on youtube)

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According to the OP, time is an uncountable noun. It's true that it's usually used as an uncountable time, but on some occasions it can be used as a countable noun or just as a singular noun. I don't want to go into details because if you look up this word in a dictionary, you will find where it can be used as a countable or uncountable noun.

As a rule of thumb, we usually use an indefinite article before "time" when there is a an adjective or descriptive word/phrase before "time" such as a certain time, a specific time, a good/bad time, a short/long time, a convenient time, a perfect time, etc. However, when we refer to the time on the watch/clock, we don't use an indefinite article such as my watch keeps perfect time. We also use "a" in the phrases "for a time" and "at a time", etc.

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