171.There is a class of words having always an adjectival use in general, but with such subtle functions and various meanings that they deserve separate treatment. In the sentence, “He passes an ordinary brick house on the road, with an ordinary little garden,” the words the and an belong to nouns, just as adjectives do; but they cannot be accurately placed under any class of adjectives. They are nearest to demonstrative and numeral adjectives.
172. The article the comes from an old demonstrative adjective (sē, sēo, ðat, later thē, thēo, that) which was also an article in Old English. In Middle English the became an article, and that remained a demonstrative adjective.
An or a came from the old numeral ān, meaning one.
Our expressions the one, the other, were formerly that one, that other; the latter is still preserved in the expression, in vulgar English, the tother. Not only this is kept in the Scotch dialect, but the former is used, these occurring as the tane, the tother, orthe tane, the tither; for example,—
We ca’ her sometimes the tane, sometimes the tother.—Scott.
An before vowel sounds, a before consonant sounds.
173.Ordinarily an is used before vowel sounds, and a before consonant sounds. Remember that a vowel sound does not necessarily mean beginning with a vowel, nor does consonant sound mean beginning with a consonant, because English spelling does not coincide closely with the sound of words. Examples: “a house,” “an orange,” “a European,” “an honor,” “a yelling crowd.”
An with consonant sounds.
174.Many writers use an before h, even when not silent, when the word is not accented on the first syllable.
An historian, such as we have been attempting to describe, would indeed be an intellectual prodigy.—Macaulay.
The Persians were an heroic people like the Greeks.—Brewer.
He [Rip] evinced an hereditary disposition to attend to anything else but his business.—Irving.
An habitual submission of the understanding to mere events and images.—Coleridge.
An hereditary tenure of these offices.—Thomas Jefferson.
175.An article is a limiting word, not descriptive, which cannot be used alone, but always joins to a substantive word to denote a particular thing, or a group or class of things, or any individual of a group or class.
176.Articles are either definite or indefinite.
The is the definite article, since it points out a particular individual, or group, or class.
An or a is the indefinite article, because it refers to any one of a group or class of things.
An and a are different forms of the same word, the older ān.
USES OF THE DEFINITE ARTICLE.
Reference to a known object.
177.The most common use of the definite article is to refer to an object that the listener or reader is already acquainted with; as in the sentence,—
Don’t you remember how, when the dragon was infesting the neighborhood of Babylon, the citizens used to walk dismally out of evenings, and look at the valleys round about strewed with the bones?—Thackeray.
NOTE.—This use is noticed when, on opening a story, a person is introduced by a, and afterwards referred to by the:—
By and by a giant came out of the dark north, and lay down on the ice near Audhumla…. The giant frowned when he saw the glitter of the golden hair.—Heroes Of Asgard.
With names of rivers.
178.The is often prefixed to the names of rivers; and when the word river is omitted, as “the Mississippi,” “the Ohio,” the article indicates clearly that a river, and not a state or other geographical division, is referred to.
No wonder I could face the Mississippi with so much courage supplied to me.—Thackeray.
The Dakota tribes, doubtless, then occupied the country southwest of the Missouri.—G. Bancroft.
To call attention to attributes.
179.When the is prefixed to a proper name, it alters the force of the noun by directing attention to certain qualities possessed by the person or thing spoken of; thus,—
The Bacon, the Spinoza, the Hume, Schelling, Kant, or whosoever propounds to you a philosophy of the mind, is only a more or less awkward translator of things in your consciousness.—Emerson.
With plural of abstract nouns.
180.The, when placed before the pluralized abstract noun, marks it as half abstract or a common noun.
His messages to the provincial authorities.—Motley.
He was probably skilled in the subtleties of Italian statesmanship.—Id.
With adjectives used as nouns.
181.When the precedes adjectives of the positive degree used substantively, it marks their use as common and plural nouns when they refer to persons, and as singular and abstract when they refer to qualities.
1. The simple rise as by specific levity, not into a particular virtue, but into the region of all the virtues.—Emerson.
2. If the good is there, so is the evil.—Id.
NOTE.—This is not to be confused with words that have shifted from adjectives and become pure nouns; as,—
As she hesitated to pass on, the gallant, throwing his cloak from his shoulders, laid it on the miry spot.—Scott.
But De Soto was no longer able to abate the confidence or punish the temerity of the natives.—G. Bancroft.
One thing for its class.
182.The before class nouns may mark one thing as a representative of the class to which it belongs; for example,—
The faint, silvery warblings heard over the partially bare and moist fields from the bluebird, the song sparrow, and the redwing, as if the last flakes of winter tinkled as they fell!—Thoreau.
In the sands of Africa and Arabia the camel is a sacred and precious gift.—Gibbon.
For possessive person pronouns.
183.The is frequently used instead of the possessive case of the personal pronouns his, her, etc.
More than one hinted that a cord twined around the head, or a match put between the fingers, would speedily extract the required information.—Kingsley.
The mouth, and the region of the mouth, were about the strongest features in Wordsworth’s face.—De Quincey.
184.In England and Scotland the is often used where we use a, in speaking of measure and price; as,—
Wheat, the price of which necessarily varied, averaged in the middle of the fourteenth century tenpence the bushel, barley averaging at the same time three shillings the quarter.—Froude.
A very strong restrictive.
185.Sometimes the has a strong force, almost equivalent to a descriptive adjective in emphasizing a word,—
No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you.—Bible.
As for New Orleans, it seemed to me the city of the world where you can eat and drink the most and suffer the least.—Thackeray.
He was the man in all Europe that could (if any could) have driven six-in-hand full gallop over Al Sirat.—De Quincey.
Mark of a substantive.
186.The, since it belongs distinctively to substantives, is a sure indication that a word of verbal form is not used participially, but substantively.
In the hills of Sacramento there is gold for the gathering.—Emerson.
I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it.—Franklin.
187.There is one use of the which is different from all the above. It is an adverbial use, and is spoken of more fully in Sec. 283. Compare this sentence with those above:—
There was something ugly and evil in his face, which they had not previously noticed, and which grew still the more obvious to the sight the oftener they looked upon him.—Hawthorne.
USES OF THE INDEFINITE ARTICLE.
Denotes any one of a class.
188.The most frequent use of the indefinite article is to denote any one of a class or group of objects: consequently it belongs to singular words; as in the sentence,—
Near the churchyard gate stands a poor-box, fastened to a post by iron bands and secured by a padlock, with a sloping wooden roof to keep off the rain.—Longfellow
Widens the scope of proper nouns.
189.When the indefinite article precedes proper names, it alters them to class names. The qualities or attributes of the object are made prominent, and transferred to any one possessing them; as,—
The vulgar riot and debauchery, which scarcely disgraced an Alcibiades or a Cæsar, have been exchanged for the higher ideals of a Bayardor a Sydney.—Pearson
With abstract nouns.
190.An or a before abstract nouns often changes them to half abstract: the idea of quality remains, but the word now denotes only one instance or example of things possessing the quality.
Become half abstract.
The simple perception of natural forms is a delight.—Emerson
If thou hadst a sorrow of thine own, the brook might tell thee of it.—Hawthorne
In the first sentence, instead of the general abstract notion of delight, which cannot be singular or plural, a delight means one thing delightful, and implies others having the same quality.
Become pure class nouns.
NOTE.—Some abstract nouns become common class nouns with the indefinite article, referring simply to persons; thus,—
If the poet of the “Rape of the Lock” be not a wit, who deserves to be called so?—Thackeray.
He had a little brother in London with him at this time,—as great a beauty, as great a dandy, as great a villain.—Id.
A youth to fortune and to fame unknown.—Gray.
Changes material to class nouns.
191.An or a before a material noun indicates the change to a class noun, meaning one kind or a detached portion; as,—
They that dwell up in the steeple,…Feel a glory in so rollingOn the human heart a stone.—Poe.
When God at first made man,Having a glass of blessings standing by.—Herbert.
The roofs were turned into arches of massy stone, joined by a cement that grew harder by time.—Johnson.
Like the numeral adjective one.
192.In some cases an or a has the full force of the numeral adjective one. It is shown in the following:—
To every room there was an open and a secret passage.—Johnson.
In a short time these become a small tree, an inverted pyramid resting on the apex of the other.—Thoreau.
All men are at last of a size.—Emerson.
At the approach of spring the red squirrels got under my house, two at a time.—Thoreau.
Equivalent to the word each orevery.
193.Often, also, the indefinite article has the force of each or every, particularly to express measure or frequency.
It would be so much more pleasant to live at his ease than to work eight or ten hours a day.—Bulwer
Compare to Sec. 184.
Strong beer, such as we now buy for eighteenpence a gallon, was then a penny a gallon.—Froude
With such, many, what.
194.An or a is added to the adjectives such, many, and what, and may be considered a part of these in modifying substantives.
How was I to pay such a debt?—Thackeray.
Many a one you and I have had here below.—Thackeray.
What a world of merriment then melody foretells!—Poe.
With not and many.
195.Not and never with a or an are numeral adjectives, instead of adverbs, which they are in general.
Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note.—Wolfe
My Lord Duke was as hot as a flame at this salute, but said never a word.—Thackeray.
NOTE.—All these have the function of adjectives; but in the last analysis of the expressions, such, many, not, etc., might be considered as adverbs modifying the article.
With few or little.
196.The adjectives few and little have the negative meaning of not much, not many, without the article; but when a is put before them, they have the positive meaning of some. Notice the contrast in the following sentences:—
Of the country beyond the Mississippi little more was known than of the heart of Africa.—Mcmaster
To both must I of necessity cling, supported always by the hope that when a little time, a few years, shall have tried me more fully in their esteem, I may be able to bring them together.—Keats’s Letters.
Few of the great characters of history have been so differently judged as Alexander.—Smith, History of Greece
With adjectives, changed to nouns.
197.When the is used before adjectives with no substantive following (Sec. 181 and note), these words are adjectives used as nouns, or pure nouns; but when an or a precedes such words, they are always nouns, having the regular use and inflections of nouns; for example,—
Such are the words a brave should use.—Cooper.
In the great society of wits, John Gay deserves to be a favorite, and to have a good place.—Thackeray
Only the name of one obscure epigrammatist has been embalmed for use in the verses of a rival.—Pearson.
Exercise.—Bring up sentences with five uses of the indefinite article.
HOW TO PARSE ARTICLES.
198.In parsing the article, tell—
(1) What word it limits.
(2) Which of the above uses it has.
Parse the articles in the following:—
1. It is like gathering a few pebbles off the ground, or bottling a little air in a phial, when the whole earth and the whole atmosphere are ours.
2. Aristeides landed on the island with a body of Hoplites, defeated the Persians and cut them to pieces to a man.
3. The wild fire that lit the eye of an Achilles can gleam no more.
4. But it is not merely the neighborhood of the cathedral that is mediæval; the whole city is of a piece.
5. To the herdsman among his cattle in remote woods, to the craftsman in his rude workshop, to the great and to the little, a new light has arisen.
6. When the manners of Loo are heard of, the stupid become intelligent, and the wavering, determined.
7. The student is to read history actively, and not passively.
9. There was always a hope, even in the darkest hour.
10. The child had a native grace that does not invariably coexist with faultless beauty.
11. I think a mere gent (which I take to be the lowest form of civilization) better than a howling, whistling, clucking, stamping, jumping, tearing savage.
12. Every fowl whom Nature has taught to dip the wing in water.
13. They seem to be lines pretty much of a length.
14. Only yesterday, but what a gulf between now and then!
15. Not a brick was made but some man had to think of the making of that brick.
16. The class of power, the working heroes, the Cortes, the Nelson, the Napoleon, see that this is the festivity and permanent celebration of such as they; that fashion is funded talent.