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Связь The Use of Articles with Material Nouns
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Most material nouns do not have plural forms and are never used with the indefinite article. Yet the English language makes it possible to look upon some object from the point of view of both count and material, as in the case of cake:

a cake, two cakes, several cakes

I’d like

some cake, another piece of cake

There are many nouns with dual class membership which often have considerable difference in meaning in the two classes: to read an evening paper ― to wrap up a present in brown paper, to press clothes with an iron ― to use tools made of iron.

1. When material nouns have generic reference they are used without any article. This is the case with mass nouns referring to the whole class:

This is lead, not silver.

Blood is thicker than water.

It was not built of brick or lofty stone, but of wood and plaster.

On the travel he dranktea, but in the cabin it was thick coffee with sugar and tinned milk.

Material nouns take no article when they are modified by descriptive attributes:

He sat there for a long time, drinking cup after cup of strong black tea.

The men moved heavily as though they were walking in thick mud.

Names of material can change their meaning and become count nouns when:

a) Various sorts of materials and food products are meant:

They are now giving you bad teas at the club.

“And now,” announced Vernier, “the king of wines.

There never was a better wine than Chambertin, and there never was a better Chambertin than nineteen-eleven.”

b) A portion of food or drink is meant:

If you want to please the boy, buy him an ice.

“I would rather have a whisky.”

Note that this use is restricted to cafes and restaurants. For example, you might ask for two teas in a cafe, but people in their own home would probably say Would you like some tea? or Would you like a cup of tea? rather than“Would you like a tea?

2. In specific use, i.e. when a definite part of the substance is meant, material nouns take the definite article. Identification is based on the linguistic context or situation of utterance.

Linguistic context:

a). Reference backwards: identification is made by something already said (by prior mention):

Here’s a glass, some water and three coins. Watch! I pour the water into the glass, then drop the coins one by one into the water.

She brought him milk to drink, and food: he couldn’t touch the food, but he drank the milk greedily.

b). Reference forwards: identification is made by something about to be said when names of material are modified by a particularizing attribute:

The water in this glass has now turned pink.

The wine on the table was served in pretty glasses.

He poured the fragrant golden wine that accompanied the lobster.

Situation of utterance

Pass me the salt, please.

Lets start our breakfast. The coffee will be cold.


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  • - The Use of Articles with Material Nouns

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