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It happened due to 'an' early onset of the monsoon or it happened due to early onset of the monsoon.

Are both correct? Is one wrong? and if anyone know what's the rule.

I did a google search, and I got plenty of hits for both the variations.

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1  
There's no real difference; onset can be treated either as a discrete state (whence an) or a diffuse one. It's not a terribly tightly-constrained word. –  John Lawler Jul 2 '13 at 3:03

2 Answers 2

The short answer to your question is that you have three options, not two, for the sentence you ask about:

It happened due to an early onset of the monsoon. [indefinite article]

It happened due to the early onset of the monsoon. [definite article]

It happened due to early onset of the monsoon. [no article]

In the absence of greater context, it appears to me that all three options are valid (and essentially interchangeable), although this is not always the case with sentences involving the phrase "early onset of."

I've separated my answer into two parts—one addressing the phrase "early onset of the monsoon," and the other addressing the phrase "early onset of."

1. "early onset of the monsoon"

A quick search of Google Books turns up 44 unique matches for "early onset of the monsoon": 21 preceded by "the," 11 preceded by "a," and 8 preceded by no article, along with 1 preceded by "this" and two that handled the phrase differently in different places ("an" in one place and no article in the other, and "an" in one place and "the" in the other).

In general, the phrase " the early onset of the monsoon" tends to appear in connection with particular historical instances of monsoon onset:

This low air pressure continued into June, and determined the early onset of the monsoon rains, which, although usually not well established until the middle of the month, had in this year fully commenced by the 3rd or 4th. [[from Report on the Meteorology of the North-Western Provinces for 1871 (1872)]]

and:

The early onset of the monsoon rains and the resultant delays imposed on 4th Corps had vindicated the decision taken by the British high command to mount Operation DRACULA to secure Rangoon as a supply base for 14th Army. [[from T. Moorman, The Japanese and the British Commonwealth Armies at War, 1941–45 (2013)]]

However, similar instances appear in sentences that use an indefinite article before the phrase:

At about 6.15 a.m. citizens all over the sprawling capital were shaken out of bed by what some thought at first was an early onset of the monsoon season. [[from G. Mwakikagile, Africa 1960–1979: Chronicle and Analysis (2009)]]

and:

Whilst the expedition was defeated by an early onset of the monsoon, the Sherpa team did include a young recruit by the name of Tenzing Norgay. [[from From Gee, Weare & Gee, Everest: Reflections from the Top (2013)]]

Likewise in sentences that use no article before the phrase:

Early onset of the monsoon in the south Peninsula, typical "break" monsoon conditions for about ten days during July, very heavy rains and consequent devastating floods in Orissa and the Punjab during August and early in September and prevalence of drought conditions over most of the Peninsula during August followed by abundant rain during September were the chief features of the monsoon this year. [[from Times of India Directory and Year Book (1961)]]

and:

Due to early onset of the monsoon in the month of May, the Agricultural operations relating to the preparatory tillage and sowings etc., were taken up on a large scale under the dry crops in all the 3 regions of the State. [[from Season and Crop Report of Andhra Pradesh (1971)]]

Meanwhile, "an early onset of the monsoon" appears most often in theoretical, generalized, or future-directed situations:

The common belief in the "Bombay-Deccan" that an early onset of the monsoon means poor rains, is not supported by the study of Mann (1955). [[from Tropical Ecology, vol. 12 (1971)]]

and:

The cross-equatorial anomalies suggested enhanced convection during the period which may lead to an early onset of the monsoon. [[from Australian Meteorological Magazine, vol. 49 (2000)]]

But similar references to "early onset of the monsoon" in a generalized sense appear with the definite article:

What causes the early onset of the monsoon? [[from Proceedings of the International Conference on Monsoon Variability and Prediction (1994)]]

and:

Generally, during El Niño, the easterly wind system is prolonged, causing a delay in the onset of the monsoon; during La Niña, the easterly wind system is weakened, resulting in the early onset of the monsoon and an enhanced distribution of rainfall. [[from M.H. Glantz, La Niña and Its Impacts (2002)]]

And with no article at all:

Ramaswamy also investigates into the causes of abnormally early onset of the monsoon over the country as a whole with reference to the subtropical westerly jet-stream which dominates during the pre-monsoon period[.] [[from Economic Geography of India (1970)]]

and:

El Niño (La Niña) is associated with late (early) onset of the monsoon[.] [[from T.T. Veblen, Fire and Climatic Change in Temperate Ecosystems of the Western Americas (2003)]]

For their part the eight Google Books matches that did not include an article before "early onset of the monsoon" split right down the middle: four describing historical instances, and four discussing prospective or general theoretical instances.

From this modest sample of 44 published examples, I would conclude that the choice of definite, indefinite, or no article is in most cases entirely up to the author, though (as noted before) use of "the" is strongest in reporting of past events and "an" is strongest in statements of prospective or general occurrence of the monsoon.

2. "early onset of"

It's worth noting that very few of the instances of the more general phrase "early onset of" between 1800 and 1900 involve weather of any kind. Though my Google Books searches for "early onset of the monsoon" called up two 19th-century matches (from 1872 and 1874), the next-earliest result from that search was from 1947. Of the 60 unique search results for "early onset of" that I obtained in a series of Google Book searches for the years 1800–1900, only a couple—one from 1882 and one from 1896—were weather related. (The two 19th-century monsoon-related examples from my earlier search did not appear in the "early onset of" search results, a clear indication of the incomplete, snapshot quality of Google Books searches.)

All of the remaining 58 instances occurred in the context of medical writing, in which the "early onset" in question involved a disease (e.g., "the early onset of diphtheria"), one or more symptoms ("the early onset of pain in the ears and staggering in the gait"), or physiological state ("the early onset of rigor mortis").

Also noteworthy here is the distribution of the matches among "the" (50 matches), "an" (3 matches), and no article (5 matches), along with 2 mixed results (one "the" plus one no article, and one "the" plus one "this").

Not surprisingly, given the tendency of medical writing to discuss maladies in general terms, and not merely with regard to a single historical incident, the vast majority of the 58 occurrences of "the early onset of" in the 19th-century results involved generalized or prospective situations. For example:

In reply, the speaker said that an extended observation had led him to await the natural issue in the dry form of gangrene, but in the moist variety, characterised by great pain and the early onset of septic manifestations, we should amputate not only early but quite high up. [[1870]]

and:

The early onset of cough and dyspnoea; the absence of any rash, splenic enlargement, and diarrhoea; and its frequent association with pre-existing lung disease, serve to distinguish it from typhoid fever, which it sometimes very closely resembles. [[1881]]

My sense is that the dominance of medical writing in 19th-century usage of the phrase "early onset of" may help explain the frequent use in more-recent writing of "the" preceding "early onset of," even in situations where we might expect to see "a" instead. I ran some Google Book searches for "early onset of" for the period 1998 through 2000, and obtained 128 unique matches, which break down as follows: 46 "the," 18 "an," 61 no article, and 3 ambiguous.

When compared with the 19th-century matches, these results indicate a considerable shift away from "the" and toward no article and (to a lesser extent) "an." The categories of content in which "early onset of" appears in the 1998–2000 sample changed, too. Although the largest number of instances occurred in the category of Medical Diseases and Symptoms, the next three most frequent categories were Social Behavior (e.g., "the early onset of delinquency and substance use") with 33 matches, Physiological Status (e.g, "the early onset of puberty") with 13, and Psychiatric Conditions and Symptoms (e.g., "the early onset of schizophrenia") with 10.

Focusing on the two biggest categories, Medical Diseases and Symptoms accounted for exactly half of the "the" matches, almost a third of the "an" matches, and almost two-fifths of the no-article matches. Social behavior accounts for a bit less than one-ninth of the "the" matches, exactly one-third of the "an" matches, and somewhat more than one-third of the no-article matches.

One of the nine mixed-use matches that Google Books returned gives a sense of where "an early onset of" and "the early onset of" cease to be interchangeable:

Usually children with OCD do not have a very early onset of their preoccupations or obsessions, and have a relatively preserved developmental history. … The key to differential diagnosis is the early onset of significant impairments in reciprocal social interaction and communication prior to 5 years of age in PDD.

In the first sentence, "the very early onset of" simply doesn't work in context, whereas (to my ear anyway) "the early onset of" in the second sentence sounds significantly better than "an early onset of" or "early onset of" (no article) would.

Likewise, after using "an early onset of alcoholism" and "an early onset of alcohol problems" earlier, the author of this excerpt shows good judgment in switching to a no-article form to handle a parallel construction:

The risk dimension included vulnerability factors such as a family history of alcoholism, early onset of alcohol problems, and a history of childhood conduct problems.

Sandwiched by two instances of "a history," "an early onset of alcohol problems" seems out of sync; "the early onset of alcohol problems" sounds better to me, and "early onset of alcohol problems" a little better still.

On the other hand, I can't fathom why the first sentence here uses "the" while the second uses no article:

Löfqvist and McGarr (1987) discuss reasons for the larger glottal gesture in fricatives, but their remarks could equally well apply to the early onset of abduction in fricatives[.] … Löfqvist and McGarr suggest that early onset of glottal abduction is avoided in English stops as inappropriate preaspiration might otherwise occur[.]

Ultimately, the term "early onset of" appears predominantly in a just a handful of fields. Its pairing with "an," "the," or no article is in many instances purely a matter of authorial preference; but sometimes one of the options is clearly preferable.

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Of possible interest: The first instance of "an early onset of" that I could find in Google Books results was this sentence from The Lancet, vol. 1 (January 11, 1873):

[F]or the rest, the deceased was well nourished, and there was no evidence of any violent muscular exertion having immediately preceded death, so that there were no inherent causes for an early onset of rigor mortis, while the cause of death (hemorrhage) is, according to all observers, favourable to its late supervention.

The first instance that I could find in Google Books of "early onset of" (without an article) was from Transactions of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, vol. 17, (1888):

In addition to the three distinctive symptoms of, first, early onset of the disease; secondly, family character of the affection; and thirdly, absence of sensory derangements, we ought to notice that in every case there is a marked curvature of the spine, a curvature which is in most cases double—i.e., both forward and lateral.

And the first instance of "the early onset of" that I could find in Google Books was this, from James Mann, Medical Sketches of the Campaigns of 1812, 13, 14 (1816):

A question at this period was made, whether there can be a state of inflammation, where the heat of the body and extremities, at the early onset of the disease, is below that of health, and the pulse small.

The Ngram Viewer graph of "an early onset of" vs. "the early onset of" vs. "to early onset of" (http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=the+early+onset+of%2C+an+early+onset+of&year_start=1700&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=0&share=) shows that "the early onset of" has consistently been somewhat more common than "an early onset of"; but both are in common use.

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But "the early onset" and "an early onset" are the same structure compared to just "early onset" –  mplungjan Jul 2 '13 at 6:13
    
You can't equate "the early onset" and "an early onset", any more than you can equate "the" and "an"/"a". –  TrevorD Jul 2 '13 at 8:51
    
but it's an interesting thing to compare. It was due to the early onset and it was due to an early onset have no change in the meaning. –  R1234 Jul 2 '13 at 10:36
    
@R1234 They would/can be used in different circumstances. E.g. the early onset of cancer in my friend = I am referring to the specific instance of my friend who already has cancer which started early (for his age, etc.). You could not properly use "an" in that instance. "He is studying the early onset of cancer in woman aged 35-40 in this region." Again, "an" would be inappropriate. I agree that there may be instances where either "the" or "an" (or neither) could be used, but the fact that there are circumstances where only one option is available, would influence the statistics. –  TrevorD Jul 2 '13 at 11:56

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