Which one is correct?

help [something] become a reality

or

help [something] become reality

What would be the reason to use / not to use the article?

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Reality is a mass noun covering the state or quality of having existence or substance. Despite this, I think that the better sentence is:

help [something] become a reality

(see below and comments for exploration)

You could replace the second with:

help [something] become real

Mass nouns have the syntactic property that any quantity of [the noun] is treated as an undifferentiated unit, rather than as something with discrete subsets. 'This is reality.'

Confusingly however, as is explained more fully in the dialogue between @EdwinAshworth and myself in the comments, mass nouns can also be used as count nouns (i.e. those that can be counted in some capacity) in some circumstances.

In the case of 'reality' it can be counted as unitary 'become a reality', 'the reality is...' (in which case it requires an article, see below for a more clear-cut example) or plural, as long as the plural doesn't have a specified number, 'the realities of life'. This plural 'realities' I think is an example of something that is grammatically wrong becoming common speech, because 'the reality of life' is a statement that covers exactly the same meaning without betraying the definition of a mass noun.

To demonstrate how a unitary quantity of something requires an article, 'a dog', 'the car' etc, compare for analogy:

help [something] become a car

vs

help [something] become car

  • This is confused. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 9 '14 at 16:38
  • @EdwinAshworth give me a bit more to work with and I'll edit it. – Sam Jun 9 '14 at 16:40
  • (1) 'Reality is a mass noun' [I'll come back to this]. (2)'In English, mass nouns are characterized by the fact that they cannot be directly modified by a numeral without specifying a unit of measurement, and that they cannot combine with an indefinite article (a or an).' [Wikipedia] I'm not sure if you say this or not. (3) 'The correct sentence is: "help [something] become a reality" '. // Macmillan labels OP's first variant as a count usage of 'reality'. // I might just say idioms can break the rules. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 9 '14 at 16:52
  • @EdwinAshworth ok, so to check I'm following: Reality according to the dictionary is a mass noun, which I have evidently misunderstood the definition of, but can also be used as a count noun, despite the only count values that I can find example of being singular (such as in OP) or undefined plural e.g. realities of life. Given that it is a mass noun, I find it interesting that the idiomatic uses I know it in are count, and that it has a defined plural. Also somewhat amusing how an intuitive command of English can shortfall when one attempts to backfill grammatical reasoning! – Sam Jun 9 '14 at 17:01
  • The whole count / mass / other debate is far from resolved. In 'we weighed anchor', is 'anchor' count or mass? I'd say it doesn't fit neatly into either camp. (There's no problem with 'the carrier has six anchors', of course.) Sometimes, it doesn't make sense to force an analysis which works fine elsewhere. 'Become [a] reality' is listed as a collocation at least by some authorities (Collins Spanish - English). It's not easy to explain why both 'a' and the zero article may both be used. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 9 '14 at 17:14

Using idiomatic expressions. These Google Ngrams back up my judgement that 'become a reality' is more commonly used than 'become reality' (which is not, however, incorrect).

In your question title, you don't put the full idiom you later ask about, and I'd say that, in general, reality is used as a mass noun more often (thus without the 'a').

  • In this context it should be becomes not become. Or maybe not. I don't know what he means by the something part. – Noah Jun 9 '14 at 17:18
  • No it shouldn't, because I've chosen to look up the versions I've chosen. It's my choice of context. And I chose it as being appropriate to OP's query. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 9 '14 at 18:15
  • What would be an example for becomes in this context? – Noah Jun 9 '14 at 18:51
  • Are you missing OP's catenation here? 'Hard work will help your dreams become a reality.' // 'If their plan becomes a reality, we'll all be in trouble.' – Edwin Ashworth Jun 9 '14 at 18:58
  • Umm, I see. Thanks. – Noah Jun 9 '14 at 19:02

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