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Is it acceptable to use the article 'a' before 'bait' in this sentence? Is there a difference in meaning here when you use 'a' or drop it?

"You would not have sent it to me for no reason. It was a bait to lure me in, and I took it in spite of knowing it to be one."

-Edit-

To give a little background information for this sentence, the speaker is talking about a short story that was sent to him along with a solicitation for a report on a particular topic. He says that at first he was not sure if he would accede to the request but the short story got his attention. So the short story is the bait here. Would it then be grammatically incorrect to say, "It was a bait"?

-Edit-

Am to new to using Google Ngram Viewer as a source of reference, so not sure if I am doing this right. But a search there for "was a bait" and "was bait" gives the following results: http://goo.gl/OuuH4

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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

There is a subtle difference. If you refer to it as "a bait", you are comparing it to a singular luring object. If you refer to it as "bait", you are using it as a mass noun. Generally speaking, you would say "I'm getting some bait" in regards to bait to be practically used, whereas one might refer to their collection of baits when each individual "bait" holds value on its own (for example, fishing flies). The latter is relatively rare.

In short, from a metaphorical standpoint, they are virtually interchangeable. Either usage would be acceptable, hypothetically speaking, with little to no difference in terms of how it would be read and interpreted. However the word seems to be typically used without the "a", as a mass noun.

The main use of the phrase "a bait" seems to be a part of the phrase "a bait and switch", in which the "a" is not addressing the bait itself, so much as the tactic. In general, however, it is a question of tastes.

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@Cmilz Thank you for the excellent answer. –  Soulz Mar 27 '13 at 7:57
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@Cmillz has given an excellent answer, to which might be added that if you decide to use “a bait", then you may continue to end your sentence with “knowing it to be one"; however, if you say simply “bait", then you should say something like “knowing it to be such".

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Oh wow, hadn't thought of that bit. Thank you. –  Soulz Mar 27 '13 at 7:56
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