Definite Ideas about Definite and Indefinite Articles
Take a look at this sentence from a restaurant review that was sent in by a reader:
The restaurant operates with an efficiency and authority that defy the chaos in the pleasant but cramped room.
Is it correct to use the indefinite article an in front of an abstract noun (efficiency)? If so, should we also use an in front of authority?
Abstract nouns don’t have to take articles although it is fine to use articles. Notice how the sentence requires rewriting if we leave the article out.
Example: The restaurant operates with efficiency and authority, defying the chaos in the pleasant but cramped room.
If you wish to use articles in front of multiple abstract nouns, you need to check if the nouns are acting as a single unit or separately. In the sentence sent in by the reader, efficiency and authority are not acting as a one-unit compound noun. Therefore, it is better to add an additional an in front of authority.
Example: The restaurant operates with an efficiency and an authority that defy the chaos in the pleasant but cramped room.
When compound nouns are considered one unit, you may drop the second article.
Example from The Chicago Manual of Style: The horse and rider appear to be one entity.
Instead of: The horse and the rider appear to be one entity.
Note that one-article compound nouns (the horse and rider) still take plural verb forms (appear).
You can also have a compound noun containing an abstraction (no article) and an object (article required):
Example: Diligence and a needle fix many problems.
Posted on Thursday, February 5th, 2009, at 10:13 am