"A turmoil" vs "turmoil"



Can we say:

The country was in a turmoil

instead of:

The country was in turmoil

I have searched the web and found that it is used without "a". But why is it so? Is the first use incorrect?


Posted 2017-03-10T14:26:26.477

Reputation: 1 061



Until the middle of the last century we usually included the article...

enter image description here

...but the current preference is now so strong that I think most (particularly, younger) people would probably notice and think it slightly "odd, dated" if you included it today.

Another closely-related usage where the same "article loss" has occurred over roughly the same time-frame is (to be) in (a) tumult. But it's interesting to note that although historically there never was an article in to be in (a) high dudgeon, you'll see from this chart that the article has started to appear there (but it's still far less common than the "standard" version).

I would say there's a general trend towards "simplification" in English, so "unnecessary" articles may sometimes disappear. With relatively uncommon words like turmoil, tumult, dudgeon there will always be some native speakers who simply aren't familiar with standard usage anyway, but on average if they're going to get it wrong they're more likely to err on the side of parsimony (if you don't know you need something, it's usually better to discard it than keep it).

FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica

Posted 2017-03-10T14:26:26.477

Reputation: 52 587

2To your point about it sounding strange to more recent generations, I actually had no idea that "a turmoil" was ever considered correct (born in 80s). – jpmc26 – 2017-03-10T20:10:13.213

Same here. If I saw a sentence using "in a turmoil", I'd assume that it was, ahem, in an error. – Mr Lister – 2017-03-10T22:25:45.320

@Mr Lister, jpmc26: I expect we all read quite a bit, and much of what we read was actually written many years earlier. So given it was actually more common to include the article until about 50 years ago, I suspect it's not so much that you've never encountered the "older" version. You probably tend to just skip over that little extra word because you're not expecting it anyway. And I'm sure that "unexpected, therefore unnoticed" phenomenon happens even more in spoken contexts. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2017-03-10T22:38:44.357


In a turmoil trivializes turmoil.

This is going to sound silly - but it's because use of the indefinite article makes it seem like there's a group of "turmoils" just waiting to happen to countries that can be assigned at will.

You may want to do this for something minor or funny, e.g. "The country is in a turmoil over Trump dyeing his hair green."

This doesn't happen with in turmoil - because you are not specially addressing the question "which turmoil" with an article, it comes off stronger as a state that the entire country is in, rather than a "thing" it is experiencing.

As turmoil typically does not describe something trivial it's not surprising in a turmoil is not common.


Posted 2017-03-10T14:26:26.477

Reputation: 31 841

I don't buy the idea that including the article somehow "trivialises" the referent. Over 2500 references to being *in a complete shambles* and dozens of references to *an utter turmoil* don't imply anything to me about there being other "shambles" and "turmoils" (which might make the one currently under consideration seem less "exceptional").

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2017-03-10T15:14:27.683


Turmoil is a state or condition similar to chaos.

Things can be in turmoil or in chaos.

They can not be in a chaos or in a turmoil.

This is similar to other states or conditions such as love, ecstasy, heaven, distress.

People are in love not in a love.

Chris M

Posted 2017-03-10T14:26:26.477

Reputation: 1 353

The fact that it's never been idiomatic to speak of *being in a love* or *in a chaos* has no direct relevance to the fact that *to be in a turmoil* has increasingly been replaced by to be in turmoil over the past several decades. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2017-03-10T14:38:38.280

@FumbleFingers I presumed the OP would want to know about current usage – Chris M – 2017-03-10T14:40:04.303

But you seem to be trying to explain the usage by comparing *turmoil* to *chaos, love, ecstasy,* etc. And I'm just pointing out that these aren't directly comparable, because they never had an earlier version where the article *was* included. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2017-03-10T14:43:59.753

I'm comparing them because their usage is now the same regardless of their historical usage. The OP wants to know the current usage. He didn't ask for a history lesson. – Chris M – 2017-03-10T14:47:05.077

When it comes to language, "Why is it so?" tends to leave the door open to history lessons. – Lawrence – 2017-03-10T15:12:57.457

@Lawrence: I haven't actually speculated over the Why? business in my answer (though I'm inclined to disagree with your suggestion). It's nowhere near so common, but the same "loss of article" occurs with in (a) tumult. I'd guess it's just that there's always a general trend towards simplification and loss of "unnecessary" articles in contexts like this.

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2017-03-10T15:26:00.557

@FumbleFingers If you're referring to that of LawrenceC, that's not my suggestion. My comment was simply in relation to the assertion that "He didn't ask for a history lesson." – Lawrence – 2017-03-10T15:28:38.123

@FumbleFingers What I meant was that although some 'why' questions about language can be explained in terms of grammar rules and other formalisms, many (and arguably all, if we dig right down to fundamentals) need to be traced to source languages or particular social contexts - i.e. history. – Lawrence – 2017-03-10T15:40:45.613

1@Lawrence: Ooops! Sorry about that! You're quite right, of course. Usage is shaped by historical / social context at least as much as by "current semantics". Particularly when we're talking about tiny little changes like discarding an article (which would normally have more relevance to syntax than semantics). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2017-03-10T16:05:06.003