057 An amazing hundred odd things you can do with English articles?

When students complain to me that they will never get their heads around all the twists and turns of English articles I normally agree, while reassuring them that basic textbook rules cover ninety-something percent of cases, so they shouldn’t really worry their heads too much over the odd anomaly.

But just how many odd exceptions are there? Here on Czechlist we have started counting:

1. A(n) plus adjective plus plural noun phrase

 After AN incredible 859 days

This structure is dealt with in some detail here http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=330 ( “ English number-expressions have inherited […] a limited ability to act like singular noun phrases.”) and here https://english.stackexchange.com/…/indefinite-articles… “the singular article is used because in each of your examples the plural nouns make up a _single_ unit of time.”

2.  Musical instruments

The violin is really difficult.                                                                                                                                                Who’s that on the piano?

We often use the + singular when we talk about musical instruments in general, or about playing musical instruments.

But the is often dropped when talking about jazz or pop, and sometimes even classical music.

This recording was made with Miles Davis on trumpet.

Practical English Usage — Michael Swan p. 66

Czechlist: protože někdo to holt dělat musí :-)