How does the meaning of the following sentences change with and without a?

I'd say that the first one sounds better with no article, not quite sure about the second one for some reason.

1.There is (a?) liquid on the floor.

2.There is (a?) dark liquid on the floor.


We often use the indefinite article when we're being indefinite ourselves.

The sofa is russet-colored. Maybe we should paint the walls a dark green?

Some shade of dark green, the particular shade not yet decided upon.

So, if we mean to say there's some liquid on the floor whose makeup has not yet been determined, "a liquid" would be suitable.

If we tell someone "there's a liquid on the floor", it means we don't know what kind of liquid it is. If we know it's water, or chlorine bleach, we wouldn't say "a liquid".

That said, if someone asks us why chocolate M&Ms melt in our mouths and not in our hands, we can say "Because they have a candy coating". There, "a" simply means candy coating not of any particular type. We don't need to know that it is one that contains carnauba wax. We could say "a carnauba wax candy coating", and there we'd mean "some kind of candy coating that contains carnauba wax".

  • Hmm, the answers seem to be a little different in this thread. Does the sentence with "a" imply uncertainty, as in "there's some kind of a liquid on the floor" or countableness, as in "there's a puddle/area of liquid on the floor". If both are possible, what does it most likely mean in my example? – Atm5 Aug 10 '15 at 4:15
  • Judging from his "unexpected puddle" example, @ultrasawblade and I would agree about the "uncertainty" factor. I think he was implying that the puddle is not only unexpected but its contents are unidentified. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 10 '15 at 14:03

For plural nouns, an indefinite article is not used - either the article is omitted or something like any or some is used.

Take boards up to the top deck for me.

Take some boards up to the top deck for me.

Things like water, air, etc. - which are not really countable, or able to be split into individual "things" - work the same way.

Take water up to the room for me.

Take some water up to the room for me.

Liquid can work like water above, referring to a noncountable quantity (like some liquid in a tank), or it can mean something like an unexpected puddle (a liquid beneath the washing machine), or specific area of water on the ground. In that case you'd use the article (like you would with puddle - you can count puddles). So you can use or omit the article according to how you mean it.

Dark liquid certainly sounds like something unexpected or unusual so the article probably should be used with it.

  • 1
    People do say "take a water"... to mean "a cup/glass/bottle of water". – Catija Aug 9 '15 at 19:36

This is by no means definite, just my impression... It sounds to me that without the article, the entire floor is covered. With the article it can be interpreted as a puddle, and perhaps some containers with other liquids on a desk or a shelf...

The color of the liquid does not play into this, IMHO.

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