The articles: An anger, a love, a jealousy etc...


Could you please tell me if you find the use of articles correct and appropriate in the examples given below?

1- There was [color=red]a deep love in his eyes.
2- There was [color=red]an anger in his eyes.
3- There was [color=red]a brooding jealousy in his eyes.

4- She gave [color=red]a wonderful performance.
5- We need to take [color=red]an action.
6- There was [color=red]an understanding between them.
7- There was [color=red]a massive understanding between them.

How would you find them if I removed the articles??


Hello Tom

Here are my thoughts:

1- There was a deep love in his eyes. ] Fine but some people might find it a little literary.

2- There was an anger in his eyes. ] As #1.

3- There was a brooding jealousy in his eyes. ] As #1.

4- She gave a wonderful performance. ] Fine!

5- We need to take an action. ] Not fine! remove the “an”.

6- There was an understanding between them. ] Fine!

7- There was a massive understanding between them ] Perhaps a little surprising. You do hear “massive understanding”, but usually in the “intellect” sense, not the “empathic” sense.

1a- There was deep love in his eyes. ] Fine; though perhaps reminiscent of romantic or melodramatic fiction.

2a- There was anger in his eyes. ] Fine.

3a- There was brooding jealousy in his eyes. ] As #1.

4a- She gave wonderful performance. ] Not fine! Keep the article.

5a- We need to take action. ] Fine!

6a- There was understanding between them. ] Not as usual as #6. It might sound odd to most speakers.

7a- There was massive understanding between them ] As 6a.

However, other members may have other thoughts!

All the best,


Thank you, MrPedantic for such a detailed answer.

…but why are we treating all these uncountable nouns as countable? And why can’t we treat progress and action as countable with these nouns?


Hi Tom

If I may butt in here for just a second… :wink:

Take action is an idiom. You should be able to find it listed under the entry for “action” in dictionaries:
“Take action” is a standard expression. Therefore, adding an article could simply end up making your wording wrong.

If you add an article, however, the or some would be more likey to work than a:
He was forced to take some unusual action because none of the standard procedures had worked.

If you want to talk about “taking one action”, I might use the word “step” instead, for example.
He took the unusual step of firing the entire staff.

Generally speaking, though, “action” can also be used as a countable noun.

I didn’t notice that you’d used the word “progress” anywhere in your first post, so I assume you may be referring to expressions such as “make progress” or “in progress”.
Again, those are standard expressions.

Regarding the countability of “progress”, why don’t you give us an example or two of how you think we might be able to count “progress”. [size=84](Insider tip: I think you may have some trouble.)[/size] :wink:


Thanks a lot, Amy.

1- He gave [color=red]a wonderful performance.(Correct)

2- He is making[color=red] a swift progress. (Incorrect)

And I would also like to know about the liberty with which we treat these uncountable nouns as countable nouns.. A love, a hatred, an anger etc


Hi Tom

You’re talking about poetic license and by definition there aren’t really any “rules” for that. My main advice would be that you shouldn’t overdo the use of “poetic license”. Doing a lot of reading will give you a better feel for where, when and how it can work. I know that you read a lot. Keep doing that.

The use of “poetic license” should probably be looked at on a case by case basis. A lot may depend on the whole context of what you write. And you should have very specific reasons/aims for “breaking” the conventional rules.

Tom, I spend my days with business people who generally don’t want to have anything to do with poetic license. They are usually more interested in language with conventional grammar and precise meanings (contracts, manuals, etc). Often the most “poetic” that many business people get is in their use of buzzwords. :lol: So, I’m probably the wrong person to give you any advice about poetic license. Maybe Alan or MM or someone else will have some tips for you.


Right, I would not recommend saying “a swift progress”. What would be your justification for doing that? What purpose is it supposed to serve? For me, that’s key.

Generally, it is possible to make countables out of uncountables-- but only to serve the specific purpose of indicating by inference that there specific kinds of the uncountable. It is also evident that the process of countabilization shows uneven results.

In this case, however, it seems to me that we are dealing with a semi-idiomatic collocation: ‘to make progress’.

Hello Tom

Just as a footnote to Amy’s comments:

The indefinite article can sometimes be used with usually non-count nouns where you want to express “a kind of X”.


  1. Anger is a very powerful emotion.
    — here, the “anger” is general and non-count; it embraces all occurrences of anger, and so it makes no sense to attempt to count it.


  1. I was angry with an anger that was cold, lucid, and rational.
    — here, “an anger” means “a kind of anger”, or “an example of anger”. There are other kinds of anger; so it makes sense to specify.

This usage may seem a little mannered or literary to some people, however. Moreover, it’s by no means possible with all non-count nouns, e.g.

  1. It was an information that was detailed, thorough, and intrinsically interesting. [Not possible.]

So unfortunately, as Amy says, you have to learn it case by case!

Bye for now,


Sorry, Mister M., I didn’t see you there.


Hi Tom,

I know you have a fondness for the English language and also that you like to probe as far as you can into the meanings and interpretations of words. And here I come up with a ‘but’ and go on to say that because of the adapatability of English it is possible as you have mentioned to take liberties with it. The extent to which you extend the boundaries of that freedom very much depends on the situation in which you are using the language, a point to which Amy has alluded. My advice, if you want it, is to experiment as much as you like with the use of words but note carefully the context in which you are using these words. Retournons a nos moutons as they say in France and I’m not showing off because I can’t remember the English equivalent at the moment (maybe somebody can) but back to the topic in hand, using these uncountable nouns as countable enters the realm of, again as Amy has said, poetic licence. And that’s fine, if you’re a poet or want to be poeticlike. That’s really the point. You have the freedom to create word images as you will, why not? But beware the context. It’s not a case of making a mistake or an error, it’s really a question of what’s appropriate for the language context.


You’ve given the English equivalent already (and I don’t mean to show off, either!) – people often say ‘retournons ? nos moutons’, literally ‘let’s go back to our sheep’ after digressing.

Hi Conchita,

Now I remember, thanks. Let’s return to our muttons.




I assume all of them mean the same thing. Could you please tell me the meaning and use of them?


Hi Tom,

Apparently the French quote should read: Revenons a nos moutons and comes from a 15th century French play concerning a sheep farmer. When used, and I have to admit it is a little precious and affected and I was being a tad puckish when I used it, it means : Let’s get back to our main topic under discussion from which we have wandered. Talking of sheep, let me recite you a well known nursery rhyme:

Sad, isn’t it?



I also heard let’s get back to the meat in this meaning (getting back to the point).

In Russian we also use ‘Let’s return to our muttons.’ / ‘Let’s go back to our sheep.’
Quite often :slight_smile: