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Many times we come across examples like these :-

Hobbits are an unobtrusive but very ancient people...

For they are a little people, smaller than Dwarves... ~ From The Fellowship of the Ring, JRR Tolkien

Is the first sentence grammatically correct? To me it seems 'an' shouldn't go with 'people'. Is it just a play of language by Tolkien or a regular form. When are such phrases correct and when would they be incorrect?

In the second sentence, 'a' ruins the regular English and sounds weird. Again, are there examples from other writers? When are such sentences correct?

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    See the distinction in definition 4 here: dictionary.reference.com/browse/people and I think there's a typo in your 2nd example - it should be 'they are'. Substitute 'race' and it may be clearer. – Leon Conrad Mar 8 '14 at 20:13
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    @Aditya: You can make it very difficult for us if you don't double-check at least your cited text. I've looked up and corrected the transcription error in your second example. – FumbleFingers Mar 8 '14 at 20:27
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    Look: the deal is that you are learning the language, so you don't ask whether sentences written by well-known authors are "correct", OK? You don't know what the rules are, and they do. If they wrote it, it's correct. Your job is to unlearn any rule that says they're wrong, because rules like that are composed by fools who think grammatical rules determine the language, instead of the other way around. – John Lawler Mar 8 '14 at 22:07
  • Dangerous folk, these Professors. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 8 '14 at 22:50
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    It is perfectly acceptable to ask whether or not any sentence, by anyone, is grammatically correct, especially when the asker is learning the language. Well known authors can indeed make grammatical errors, John Lawler; in fact, they often do. It just so happens, however, that Tolkien did not make an error here. Explaining the logic, grammar, reason, or what have you about why Tolkien did not make a mistake is far more beneficial than simply criticizing someone for trying to learn. – Anonym Mar 8 '14 at 23:08
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'People' when used in this sentence is clearly singular and takes the indefinite article just like any other singular noun would.

'The Incas were an ancient people of the Americas'.

This is quite different to a situation where 'people' is used as a plural of 'person'.

So you could say 'I saw a person entering the derelict house' but you could NOT say 'I saw a people entering the derelict house'. You would have to say 'I saw some people....'

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