He turned to the right towards Capel Street. Ignatius Gallaher on the London Press! Who would have thought it possible eight years before? Still, now that he reviewed the past, Little Chandler could remember many signs of future greatness in his friend. People used to say that Ignatius Gallaher was wild Of course, he did mix with a rakish set of fellows at that time. drank freely and borrowed money on all sides. In the end he had got mixed up in some shady affair, some money transaction: at least, that was one version of his flight. But nobody denied him talent. There was always a certain... something in Ignatius Gallaher that impressed you in spite of yourself. Even when he was out at elbows and at his wits' end for money he kept up a bold face. Little Chandler remembered (and the remembrance brought a slight flush of pride to his cheek) one of Ignatius Gallaher's sayings when he was in a tight corner:

"Half time now, boys," he used to say light-heartedly. "Where's my considering cap?"

-- James Joyce, Dubliners

Does talent mean “people or a person with a natural ability to do something well (OALD)” in this context? If so, why isn’t there an article before it?

  • 3
    Maybe it should've been his instead of him there.
    – hjpotter92
    Aug 31, 2013 at 7:19
  • 2
    @hjpotter92 - I don't know; I wouldn't venture to get out my red pen and edit Joyce.
    – J.R.
    Aug 31, 2013 at 11:11

2 Answers 2


It's a literary way of saying:

But nobody denied that he had talent.

Yes, talent here means the natural ability to do things well.

This is a construct you are unlikely to hear in everyday speech, but you come across it every now and then in literature, particularly in the era when Joyce wrote, or earlier. I found a few instances with a Google book search. For example, from a biography published in 1884:

There are many — not men of small calibre either — who believed these acts were impolitic, absolute mistakes; but nobody denied him the rewards of unmixed moral courage.

Again, this is a literary way of saying:

Nobody denied that he earned the rewards of unmixed moral courage, even if he did make mistakes.

In other words, everyone agreed that he was steadfast to his principles, and earned the rewards of that fine reputation.

Also, from an 1801 work:

Nobody denied him several brilliant qualities, considerable capacity, an agreeable turn of mind, manners at once noble and prepossessing, an easy and florid style of elocution...

which is a way of saying, no one denied that he possessed several brilliant qualities...

Lastly, from an 1898 publication:

Generosity no one denied him...

which could be paraphrased, everyone agreed he was generous.

Similar phrasing can be found in more modern works, though. Published just this year:

No one denied her talent and intelligence, but the other side of this coin was apparently an outrageous capacity for self-styling and display...

In other words, everyone would admit she was talented and intelligent...

However, it's hard to find a feminine counterpart to this construct in English, because the pronoun her maps to both him and his, so perhaps that one doesn't sound as awkward to the modern ear.

  • Then it's a kind of small clause or verbless clause.
    – Listenever
    Aug 31, 2013 at 10:42
  • 1
    @Listenever Yes, it's an abbreviated form of no one denies him to have talent or no one denies him having talent. Aug 31, 2013 at 12:28
  • 1
    +1 But I don't think this is a historical thing: a) you'll find this use still current if you Google it in the present tense, "nobody denies him", and b) you'll find "denied his" talent/ability/etc. a lot more often than "denied him" in the 19th century, just as today. I think it's been true all along that we generally prefer deny + objective when deny has the sense "prevent him from possessing" (deny him his right to...) and deny + genitive when deny has the sense "declare he does not possess" (deny his ability). Aug 31, 2013 at 12:43

Nouns like talent, ability, charisma, courage, generosity are usually used without the article when we're talking about them as abstract personal qualities:

He certainly has talent.
Nobody denies her courage.
Sartorius lacks generosity.

In these cases the predications can all easily be turned into simple adjectives:

He is talented.
He is courageous.
Sartorius is not generous.

The article comes into play only when we want to define a particular instance or kind of the quality in play:

He has a talent for spotting where the market is going.
She has the courage to defy convention and live life on her own terms.
Sartorius lacks the generosity most men of his wealth exhibit.

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