Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The Rules of Writing-Parts of Speech-Determiner 3
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: May 27, 2013
For writers, what’s in a Determiner?
In our experience, when editing, beta-reading and reviewing fiction prose, we’ve discovered that many writers struggle with article choice, when the rules (for once) are clear-cut and easy to follow.
There are three articles: “the,” “a,” and “an.”
is a definite article, which means that it’s used to specify.
To refer to something that has already been mentioned.
A fly and a fish fell in love.
The fly loved the fish’s silvery scales, and the fish loved the fly’s taste.
In the first sentence, “a fly” and “a fish” are introduced to the reader; hence, the indefinite article “a” is correct. In the second sentence, since we’re already acquainted, we change the article to definite.
Tiffany held still. No, only her head pounding in rhythm with her blood. She opened one eye to the blurry outlines of a four-poster bed backlit by the light coming from an open window before closing it again to block the piercing rays. What time was it? She blinked to focus on the red numbers of a clock on a bedside table.
These are a first chapter’s opening lines. Even if the character is familiar with her environment, the reader has not been introduced to the setting. Hence “a four-poster bed,” “an open window,” “a clock,” and “a bedside table.” Since indefinite articles can’t be used with plural or uncountable nouns, we have “the blurry outlines,” “the light,” “the piercing rays,” and “the red numbers.” If these lines were in a later passage after the room has been described once previously, the writer would use “the four-poster bed,” “the open window,” “the clock,” and “the bedside table.”
When the matter is known, even if it wasn’t mentioned before.
“Where’s the hardware section?”
“It’s on the fourth floor.”
But it would be different if one or both of the characters didn’t know.
“Is there a hardware section in this store?”
“Yes. The hardware section is on the fourth floor.”
are indefinite articles and used the same way grammatically, before a singular noun, or before the adjective that describes the noun but never with plural or uncountable nouns.
Most texts we’ve consulted state that the choice between a and an depends on whether or not the noun begins with a vowel. This is incorrect and confusing to many writers. There are no spelling rules to determine the correct a/an usage, except for pronunciation. Words opening with a vowel sound merit the an, those opening with a consonant sound get the a.
The full rule reads:
before consonant sound, including the palatalized “y.”
before vowel sound or unvoiced consonants.
Problem is not every word opening with a consonant has a consonant sound nor all words starting with a vowel have vowel sounds. Take “uniform.” Though “u” is a vowel, it doesn’t sound like one; hence “a uniform.” (Pronounced “yuniform.”)
Pronunciation can be dicey with words starting with “h,” but fear not. Only four words starting with “h” in the English language merit an “an:” heir, honest, honor, and hour. Why? Because the “h” is silent; we hear a vowel sound. Although it was once taught that one should say “an hotel,” modern usage is “a hotel” because the initial letter “h” is now sounded, ignoring the French origin of the word.
We write a European, a university, a unit, and a unicorn, even though the words start with a vowel.
Another structure to watch is when letters are said rather than pronounced. Example:
An FBI agent and a CIA agent walked into the bar where an S.O.S. symbol blinked in its window.
Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes
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