Why does the name of this book have ‘a’ in it?



Hermione whispered, "Its bewitched to look like the sky outside. I read about it in Hogwarts: A History." (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

I think the name of the book would be better with ‘the’ instead of ‘a’, because the book is about the history of the specific school, Hogwarts. Now, why does the name have ‘a’?


Posted 2013-05-04T02:54:53.397

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The colon is conventional, indicating that what follows is the subtitle. In English books this is often a generic description, allowing the author (or publisher) to put the topic first, in bigger letters:

Hogwarts: A History
Sardanapalus: A Tragedy
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life

The subtitle may be an alternative title rather than a genre

Oliver Twist: The Parish Boy's Progress

Another strategy is to introduce the subtitle with or:

Leviathan, or the Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill
The Hobbit, or There And Back Again
Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus

Kurt Vonnegut famously did both:

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2013-05-04T02:54:53.397

Reputation: 176 469

2This doesn't explain why it is "A History," and not "The History." It explains what "A History" is in the title, but not what the OP is asking. – kiamlaluno – 2013-05-05T20:43:21.863

2@kiamlaluno Because it is a genre description, not a name. "This book is a history". There are many histories of many topics, and this is just one of them. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-05-05T21:07:55.657


It's a because it's one account of history of Hogwart's – there could be many others.


Hogwarts: The History

Using the instead of a might sound rather presumptuous of the author, don't you think? Almost as if no one else would ever be capable of putting together another account.

The practice of doing this in titles is rather common; have a look:

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Each of these works is one biography (perhaps out of many) about each person in the title.


Posted 2013-05-04T02:54:53.397

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1This is exactly what the OP is asking. – kiamlaluno – 2013-05-05T20:44:22.383


History is a noun that tells the reader what type of book Hogwarts: A History is. Because it's a noun, it requires an article in this context. See this Wikipedia article about Nehru's autobiography.


Posted 2013-05-04T02:54:53.397



One of the reasons I believe is that it isn't constant. History can be expanded as newer events take place(as they do in the seven years).

Using A History for the name/subtitle makes it like a log of all the events. These events can further be added to, edited and stuff similar to what Wikipedia entries are.


Posted 2013-05-04T02:54:53.397

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