A secretary with ____ good knowledge of English: "a" or no article?



I'm trying to pass a test on "Articles exercise" as they call it on the EnglishGrammar site. Reviewing my answers I got stuck about the two I posted on the picture below.

As I understand both words are uncountable (according to the Cambridge Dictionary), so it looks like (or said for example here in a guide to learning English from Frankfurt International School) I can't say a/an with an uncountable noun.

But this test says the opposite. Is there some trick? Or am I just dumb? Please help me to understand why I need to use "a" article in these cases?

  1. We need a secretary with ____ good knowledge of English.

    • a (marked as the correct answer)
    • the
    • a / the
    • no article is needed (the answer I think is correct)
  2. We're having ____ terrible weather.

    • a (marked as the correct answer)
    • the
    • a / the
    • no article is needed (the answer I think is correct)

Picture of the questions and answer

Andrey Morozov

Posted 2016-10-18T19:53:14.837

Reputation: 243

1If you have Practical English Usage (Michael Swan), 3rd ed., check out entry 149.4, but eventually you have to get familiar with each of these nouns one at a time to gauge whether it's idiomatic or not to use it with the indefinite article. Most of these are arbitrary, e.g., I have a sleep doesn't work in AmE, but fine in BrE, while I have a good sleep is fine everywhere, and yet we'd say How much sleep did you get last night? (not a sleep) – Damkerng T. – 2016-10-18T20:33:19.417



Unfortunately, I don't know if there's any solid rule you can use to explain why "a good knowledge of English" is correct. You are right that "knowledge" is an uncountable noun, but in this particular usage the idiomatic way to express it is with the "a". It's possible that the idiom distinguishes between "a knowledge of English" and other kinds of knowledge, or other degrees of knowledge, rather than just talking about the amount of knowledge.

Still, again, it's hard to pinpoint which nouns work like this, and which don't. Also, "knowledge" isn't the only uncountable noun where this applies:

I hear you have a good intuition about the future

I hope you have a clear understanding of what I mean.

They're trying to find someone with a good insight into the stock market.

It may be yet another case where you just have to memorize these exceptions as you come across them.

Anyway, as mentioned in the above comments, the given answer to the second question might be OK in some dialects, but "We're having terrible weather" is also correct.


Posted 2016-10-18T19:53:14.837

Reputation: 85 521

3The adjective plays a role here. Take out good from your examples, and the article can go away, too: I hear you have intuition about the future. They're trying to find someone with insight into the stock market. – J.R. – 2016-10-18T20:27:22.080

intuition - noun [ C or U ] insight - noun [ C or U ] Cambridge Dictionary. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/ru/%D1%81%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%8C/%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B3%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%B9%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B9/insight?fallbackFrom=british-grammar

– JavaLatte – 2016-10-18T20:29:52.247

It seems to be ok either way. "I hear you have an intuition about the future". According to the dictionary, knowledge can be countable or uncountable, depending on context. The challenge is that I know of no rule that helps distinguish nouns that can be either, from nouns that are one or the other (but not both). – Andrew – 2016-10-18T20:30:20.913

I'm guessing that the "adjective rule" may have played a role in the botched weather question, too. Because it's not just "weather" but "terrible weather", the exam writers may have erroneously thought an article should be added. That's what happens when you try to put English in a box. Note that "We're having a terrible rain" would be just fine. – J.R. – 2016-10-18T20:37:03.877

@J.R. Still, the adjective is not the determiner here. We wouldn't say "a good advice" ... – Robusto – 2016-10-18T21:35:06.510

@Robusto - Precisely why I'm still leaving comments, rather than leaving an answer. It's complicated. – J.R. – 2016-10-19T07:38:51.883

I would say both a and no article are correct in " with ___ good knowledge of English," although a is probably more idiomatic. But no article doesn't sound wrong to me, and I can find lots of instances of "with good knowledge" using Google. – Peter Shor – 2016-10-19T12:14:55.357


If you look at the entry for knowledge in the Cambridge dictionary. The definition that is relevant to ... good knowledge of English is the first one:

understanding of or information about a subject that you get by experience or study, either known by one person or by people generally

If you look at this definition, you will see that it is marked [S or U]: that is an abbreviation for Singular or Uncountable. As a Singular noun, it can (and usually does in a sentence of this kind) take the indefinite article a.


Posted 2016-10-18T19:53:14.837

Reputation: 43 538


I've been browsing the website englishgrammar.org, and there is a contact page where you can report errors to the owner, Jennifer Frost.

Because it seems there are a couple of discrepancies that need to be weeded out. For example, question 6 in Articles with uncountable nouns

  1. We are having ……………………………. weather.

a) a terrible b) terrible c) the terrible

the correct answer listed is:

  1. We are having terrible weather.

In question 10 at Countable and uncountable nouns exercise

  1. We are having …………………… (a terrible weather / terrible weather)

the correct answer has no indefinite article.

  1. We are having terrible weather.

I did the same online quiz as the OP and ...

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and the result was the identical to that of the OP's

enter image description here

So, if you read the pages about articles and countable and uncountable nouns, the answers say "no article" is needed before terrible weather, but that is contradicted by the answer on the online quiz.

That's not the only mix up I found. Note that the answer I chose was no article is needed. Reading the explanation increased my confusion

enter image description here

The hint says that in British English no article is needed in front of hospital, but in American English the article, the, is always required. Which meant my answer was correct! No? Maybe? Yes! Yes, if I am speaking British English.

Articles with hospitals, schools, prisons etc.

For example, Americans usually say someone is in the hospital, much as they could be at the bank or in the park. To the British this sounds like there is only one hospital in town or that the American is thinking of one hospital in particular that he or she patronizes. The Brits say an ailing person is in hospital, just as they would say a child is at school or a criminal is in prison. This is because they are thinking more of the primary activities that take place within those institutions rather than the buildings in which they are housed. If, however, you are merely visiting one of these places, you are at the hospital, at the school or at the prison — both British and Americans agree here that what we have in mind is the building itself.
David Appleyard.com

And finally, if you work in Germany and meet somebody who is German, you would say "I met a German guy/girl yesterday." The indefinite article would be preferred because we know that Germany has more than one German man or woman. The online quiz says that either a or the works if you happen to fall in love with one of them. I'm not going to say that using the in this case is ungrammatical, because it's not; but without any background information, or context, selecting the is less probable.

enter image description here

Mari-Lou A

Posted 2016-10-18T19:53:14.837

Reputation: 19 962


The test says correctly. I found on the internet, that when we are talking about specific knowledge we can use a preposition, but only in the pattern a knowledge of something (or a good/deep/thorough etc knowledge of something): - according to macmillan dictionary. To simplify the answer I would say that we use a/an preposition when there is an adjective in a sentence, and the adjective describes what kind of knowledge we are dealing with.


Posted 2016-10-18T19:53:14.837

Reputation: 1