A beer in hand vs a beer in a hand


Please let me know can we use in a hand? I have seen the hand but I am not sure about a hand. But I think, grammatically we can say a hand.

Are all question good?

A beer in a hand.

A beer in hand.

A beer in the hand.


Posted 2014-05-29T10:53:38.453

Reputation: 3 999

2These are all just nominal groups, none of them are clauses, which is why it's probably going to sound unusual to readers. – jimsug – 2014-05-29T11:16:11.747



"A beer in hand" is not a grammatical unit by itself. It occurs in sentences that have dropped a modifying word from "hand" by ellipsis.

To enjoy the view from this mountain top with a beer in hand is divine.

Bob approached our table, with a beer in hand.

This is a contraction of an appropriate choice of "a beer in my hand", "a beer in your hand", a "beer in one's hand" or "a beer in his hand".

"Beer in hand" without the leading article "a" belongs to a category of phrases which can describe an aspect of a way of being or acting. These phrases combine some nouns and prepositions without using articles, such as "hand in hand", "hook in mouth", "one on one".

Example sentence:

There was Joe, beer in hand, standing by the juke box.

A: Bob doesn't drink; he's a teetotaler.

B: Oh really? Well look at what Bob is chugging down over there: he must be one of those special beer-in-hand teetotalers.

The use of such a phrase can replace adjectival phrases in some situations: for instance, consider these substitutions:

There I stood, dumbfounded.

There I stood, beer in hand.

There I stood, uncertain about whether to enter or turn around and walk away.

But they do not always serve as a complement to "is":

I was dumbfounded.

* I was beer-in-hand.

I was uncertain about whether to enter or turn around and walk away.

"A beer in a hand" is plausible, but only in some rather special circumstances, like when a physical description is being given:

The advertisement showed a picture of a beer in a hand.

This informs us that two objects reveal themselves in the picture: a beer, and a hand. Moreover, the beer is in the hand.

Usually in giving this kind of physical description, the container is named: "a glass of beer held by a hand". "A beer in a hand" sounds childishly unsophisticated. A native speaker might use this, but not a native speaker that is over five years old, and of average intelligence or better.

"A beer in the hand" is the correct way to refer to some imaginary beer in an imaginary hand. The article "a" occurs only once, giving us a clue that what is being described is a representative of a class of things, and not some specific thing. The hand takes the article "the" because it is a specific hand which goes with the non-specific beer that has been introduced. This grammatical structure occurs in sentences like "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush". Here, "the hand" could be replaced by "your hand" or "one's hand". We could make up something similar, like "a beer in the hand is better than a keg of beer in the liquor store window".

Outside of the use for uttering generalities like this, it is hard to imagine where "a beer in the hand" could be used. The structure cannot be used when a specific person is being discussed. For instance "I see a man with a beer in the hand" is not grammatical, or at best border-line grammatical. The correct sentence is "I see a man with a beer in his hand". "A beer in the hand" is possible if a hand has been introduced in the discourse first, and then the beer is revealed: "I see a hand. There is something in the hand. Aha, there is a beer in the hand. That's what it is: a can of beer." It is "a beer" because it is being introduced for the first time, but "the hand" in order to refer to the same hand that has been introduced earlier.


Posted 2014-05-29T10:53:38.453

Reputation: 6 114

This is incorrect. [a/the] + X + in hand is a common pattern. Just google "a beer in hand." You will see millions of results that are perfectly natural. – Merk – 2014-05-29T19:08:56.110

@Merk Google is not reliable, because English is very popular as a second language, and is spoken and written badly all over the world. – Kaz – 2014-05-29T19:12:32.917

hence the qualification "that are perfectly natural" coming from my standpoint as a native English speaker. – Merk – 2014-05-29T19:13:52.813

@Merk It is not perfectly natural to me, from the same standpoint. – Kaz – 2014-05-29T19:15:57.403

Do you have an example of one of the search results that strikes you as particularly incorrect? Generally when there are about as many examples of something that is 'incorrect' (1 million) as examples of something that is 'correct' (~2 million, after subtracting for double counting) that is a sign that the supposed rule does not exist or has ceased to apply. – Merk – 2014-05-29T19:19:46.567

@Merk All of the top hits are examples of "headline English"; a special, abbreviated dialect for writing captions, in which articles and other connecting words are omitted. Granted, it is a special grammatical form. I should make a note of this in my answer. – Kaz – 2014-05-29T19:29:23.080

Looking at GloWbE, it would seem that the DET N in hand construction is found in many variants of English. Granted, fewer than 400 occurrences were found in over 1.9 billion tokens, but nonetheless, it exists.

– jimsug – 2014-05-30T16:08:52.640


In the right context, any of those could be used as there nothing specifically wrong with any of them.

However, this looks a lot like the saying "A Bird in the Hand..." Which I have seen as both "A Bird in hand" and "A Bird in the Hand".

"A Bird in a Hand" has a slight bit of ambiguity, as to which or whose hand, which makes it less than ideal.


Posted 2014-05-29T10:53:38.453

Reputation: 4 769

No. The correct idiom is *A bird in the hand...* – Maulik V – 2014-05-29T11:13:00.633

1I know that. I was merely pointing out that I have seen it with 'the' omitted. – Johns-305 – 2014-05-29T11:14:46.527


They all are okay provided the context is clear. The sentences as they are actually lack some information. Let's make them in correct use.

You cannot jump easily with a beer in hand - generalized sentence.

What's up buddy? Why are you standing here? Enjoy the party with beer in a hand - talking about a specific gesture.

With an arm around each other and a can of beer in the hand that was free, the survivors didn't look as much like ghosts - talks about the specific people with specific scene.

The last one is from the Google Books results.

Maulik V

Posted 2014-05-29T10:53:38.453

Reputation: 66 188

1The first two are ungrammatical. – Kaz – 2014-05-29T17:53:30.930

@Kaz correct it here then. – Maulik V – 2014-05-30T04:25:44.150

1@Kaz The first and last seem fine to me, the second is questionable. – jimsug – 2014-05-30T16:12:28.013

@jimsug Would you say that "You cannot jump easily with a brick in backpack?" Or ".. brick in your backpack?" The situation of "beer in hand" is rather a colloquial sounding ellipsis. It doesn't seem to generalize. – Kaz – 2014-05-30T19:01:56.717

@Kaz What about You cannot jump easily with that fear in mind? – jimsug – 2014-05-30T22:57:02.090

@jimsmug there is no article there; try "... with a fear in mind", oops! – Kaz – 2014-05-30T23:00:14.627

@jimsmug also note that "in mind" stands by itself and has a different meaning from "in {my|one's|his|the|a} mind". There is no elision going on. It's more closely related to "at hand" or "on hand". – Kaz – 2014-05-30T23:12:35.637