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Could the following sentence make sense?

I recycle a paper.

It's from one of the school English exam's answers, and we're arguing about giving the whole point or half point. The teachers have given the whole point to answers such as "I recycle a piece of paper", "I recyle papers", etc.

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It is easier to come up with sensible situations if you use "paper" to mean "newspaper". What exactly was the prompt? – Cameron Nov 9 '12 at 5:44
If this were a caption on a photograph of you dropping a whole newspaper into the recycling bin it would be completely acceptable. – Jim Nov 9 '12 at 5:46
Well, if the same question had appeared on last year's examination, the teachers would have recycled a paper. – Fortiter Nov 9 '12 at 6:33
Jim's comment is spot on. I was gonna say the same thing. I'd give you half a point at most because it's too primitive a sentence to be considered idiomatic English outside the context of the photograph of you dropping a newspaper into a recycle bin. – user21497 Nov 9 '12 at 7:32

It depends entirely on context.

The normal meaning, when speaking about "recycling paper", would refer to the environmental process of "recycling", and would mean pieces of paper.:


Recycle (definition 1) :

To treat or process (used or waste materials) so as to make suitable for reuse.

Paper (definition 1):

A substance made from wood pulp, rags, straw, or other fibrous material, usually in thin sheets

If this is the intended meaning, then- no, "I recycle a paper" is not the right wording for the sentence. "I recycle a piece of paper" or "I recyle papers" is what is needed.

However, as others have already pointed out, both words have multiple meanings. From these you could create several scenarios where the sentence "I recycle a paper" is valid.


  • I am putting a newspaper into my recycling bin.

  • I am reusing an examination paper for a second time.

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Taking into assumption that it was meant to be a general statement, I think it deserves half a point simply because the addition of "a" changes the meaning of the sentence from a general statement to a very specific one.

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