"A paper", is this usage correct? Or should I say "a sheet of paper"?


I have a question:

  • "A paper", is this usage correct?
  • Or should I say "a sheet of paper"?


Posted 2015-05-14T14:49:48.730




We typically count physical units of paper in pieces or sheets:

Could you hand me a sheet of paper?
Could you hand me a piece of paper?

We typically use sheet when the paper is a regular size. For example, we would use sheet if you had twenty pieces of paper, all the same shape and size, which you could easily place in a stack.

Piece is more general, and can refer to any size or shape. If you tear off the corner of a sheet of paper, you have a piece of paper.

We don't typically count physical paper without one of these words. However, the word paper has various other meanings. For example, if the word refers to a newspaper, we don't say sheet or piece:

I saw an article about losing weight in the paper.

The same is true if the word refers to an academic paper:

Have you read Shigeto Kawahara's new paper about geminate devoicing in Japanese?

But most people wouldn't normally refer to a sheet of paper as "a paper".


Posted 2015-05-14T14:49:48.730

Reputation: 30 097

Or "Should I write a paper on ...?" Still, in this sense, "a paper" is "an essay". – Catija – 2015-05-14T17:16:39.480

@Catija Oh, sure. Good example! I was thinking of that as included under "academic paper", but it doesn't hurt to point it out explicitly :-) – snailplane – 2015-05-14T17:29:22.437

I think they're the same, just showing how you could use the construction "a paper" specifically. :) – Catija – 2015-05-14T17:30:37.710

I can imagine *Could you pass me a paper* being used in contexts where what you want is (any one of several potentially available) newspapers, academic papers, or cigarette papers, for example. But it just doesn't seem to work if you want a [generic?] sheet of paper - it's only okay if (in context) paper is a shorthand reference to a single example of a specific kind of "paper". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2015-05-14T18:04:41.700