A is a word that selects an indistinct member of a group. To distinguish between whatever is selected by a, salient features different from the group or which are uniquely identifying have to be described.

For example, saying "I saw a person." implies that the person has all the qualities of the group people.

These qualities are implicit and are not generally stated. Only qualities that differ from the group as a whole are mentioned : "I saw a person with two heads."

Awareness of Use

Being aware of how people use the word a will tell you what they think of the group as a whole. By paying attention to the distinctions, you can determine what qualities a person considers to be implicit in the group.

If someone says: "I saw a smart black person." it shows that he considers members of the black race to be stupid. Also note that though he considers them stupid, he considers them people.

Subgroup Selection

A can be used to select a subgroup.

  • I think the mouse is a girl.
  • He's a catholic.

Selection of a Non-Specific Member of a Group

  • I'm going to eat a hamburger. technically a hamburger is a part of the group of *food*

See Also

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Categories: language