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Связь The Use of Articles with Abstract Nouns
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Abstract nouns fall into two large categories: count abstract nouns and non-count (mass) abstract nouns. The line between count and mass nouns is not always easy to draw. Among abstract nouns there are many with dual class membership. They often have considerable difference in meaning: Beauty is to be admired ― She was a beauty. They walked in silence ― He began to speak after a long silence. Count abstract nouns (e.g. answer, belief, doubt, effort, fact, opinion, idea, job, lie, plan, question, visit) can be used both in the singular and in the plural. The use of article with count abstract nouns is practically the same as with concrete count (class) nouns: You could have a very happy life with her. He always has such brilliant ideas!

The use of articles with non-count abstract nouns (e.g. anger, chemistry, impatience, jealousy, modesty, pride, relief, violence) is presupposed by the following:

1. When non-count abstract nouns have generic reference they are used without any article. This is the case when a certain quality, state, action as such as meant:

Experience is the power of wisdom.

Knowledge is power.

She has attached herself to youth and hope and seriousness and they had failed her more thanage and despair.

Abstract nouns with generic reference are often used in attributive and adverbial prepositional phrases after of, with, in:

A slight feeling of uneasiness came over him.

She was fighting down the rising feeling of panic.

Four pairs of eyes were on him, black with suspicion and accusation.

He turned round in annoyance and then walked away.

The tendency to use the noun in attributive and adverbial prepositional phrases without an article is so strong that even count nouns may have no article in these function: a man of principle, a woman of feeling, a carpet of colour, etc.

Generally no article is used when the abstract noun is modified by a descriptive attribute:

His mouth fell open and he stared at her in startled amazement.

His small clear voice was heavy with passionate determination.

We find no article if the attribute qualifies the noun from the point of view of nationality and geography (English literature, French poetry, Russian painting, Moscow time), time (modern physics, contemporary art, ancient sculpture), degree and authenticity (great value, perfect surprise, sheer delight, complete satisfaction, infinitive fatigue, real importance, genuine sorrow):

For once he showed real irritation.

It gives me great pleasure.

When I heard the news I felt perfect relief.

Note the use of the definite article in combination with the limiting of-phrase: the English literature of the 19th century, the French poetry of that period, etc.

2. Non-count abstract nouns can be used with the indefinite article when they are modified by descriptive attributes which bring out a special aspect of a quality, feeling, state, etc. expressed by the noun. This use of the indefinite article may be called aspective:

She looked several years younger and there was a new dignity about her.

Then the two women slimed at each over with a curious tenderness.

Some grammarians point out that the use of the indefinite article in such cases seems to be optional and depends on the intention of the speaker to lay particular stress on the special aspect (“некий”, “какой-то”) expressed by the attribute modifying the noun.

The indefinite article seems to be obligatory which the abstract noun is modified by the adjective certain, curious, peculiar or by a descriptive attributive clause:

You have a curious influence over me.

The girl interrupted him with a certain impatience in her voice.

He had a patience which amazed his friends.

His face had a calmness that was new to her.

3. Abstract nouns in specific use take the definite article. Identification is based on the linguistic context or the situation of utterance. The specification can be provided:

a) by a limiting of-phrase:

I was wrapped in the security of childhood.

I was torn between the fear of hurting a nice woman’s feeling and the fear of being in the way.

b) by a restrictive (particularizing) attributive clause:

I couldn’t help showing the resentment which flared up within me.

His apologetic laugh did not disguise the pleasure that he felt.

c) Identification can result from the whole situation of utterance:

“And how did you like the music?” she asked.

The weather is changing for the best.” he said.

4. Some abstract nouns are never used with the indefinite article: weather, money, news, work, luck, fun, progress, luggage and some others:

It was raw weather.

What bad news we are having!

It was weary, weary work.

That’s hard luck.

We hid his watch for fun.

Note: The noun work can be used with the indefinite article in the meaning of ‘thing made, a book or a piece of literary or musical composition, literary or other product: Miss Tray says the portrait was the best thing she had ever done. That means it was a really great work.

5. Some syntactic structures affect the use of articles. Such nouns as pity, pleasure, comfort, relief, shame and some others generally tend to be non-count, but in certain constructions they are regularly used with the indefinite article:

a) structures with the formal it as subject

It’s a shame to act like this.

It’s a pleasure to see you.

b) structures with the exclamatory what

What a pity!

What a relief!


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