"Mornings came and cast a blinding sunlight over everything, and he felt like nothing worthwhile could be accomplished."

For some reason, I feel like "a blinding light" is ok, but if its sunlight, then I should drop the "a" and write "cast blinding sunlight", but I'm not sure why I feel this way.

Can anyone offer some enlightenment?

edit - alternate phrasing, closer to being a literal translation: "Mornings came without warning, flooding the day with a strong sun, and he felt like nothing worthwhile could be accomplished."

I would still like an answer to the technical question of whether I should drop the "a", but would also appreciate knowing if anyone thinks option #2 is a better choice.

  • I like your option #2! "...a strong sun..." this has a musical ring... it will work. Feb 16, 2015 at 18:48
  • I think "morningS" in the plural is the best, even the only way to capture that morning was his least favorite part of the day (Think: "MorningS came [and went]..."). Also, Martha does in fact answer your technical question with her reference to "countable (count/determinable quantity) vs uncountable (noncount/indeterminable quantity) nouns". I'd translate it all as: "Unwelcome mornings arrived unannounced, bringing rays of blinding sunlight, and he felt like nothing worthwhile could be accomplished."
    – Papa Poule
    Feb 16, 2015 at 19:36

3 Answers 3


You feel that way because "light" can be countable, but "sunlight" really can't. Thus, "a blinding light" is fine, but "a blinding sunlight" isn't.

(Regarding your edit: I don't really have an opinion either way. You're more aware of the full context, so you're better able to say whether the "without warning" part is really important or whether it can be left out in the interests of tighter phrasing. The only other thing is that I'm a bit bothered between the mismatch between plural "Mornings" and singular "day", but it's possible that the mismatch makes sense in context.)

  • Countable? "Morning rose and cast blinding sunlight over everything, and he felt like nothing worthwhile could be accomplished." Morining doesn't "come" or "cum." Morning arises or "Morning rose..." rose ('arose' also like a "rose" flower)... don't over think anything... Occam's rule. Feb 16, 2015 at 18:42
  • she isn't commenting on the coming... it answers exactly my question. Focus on the problem at hand... Occam's 2nd rule
    – joeav
    Feb 16, 2015 at 18:46
  • 1
    @MauliDavidson you're commenting on Martha's answer, so it sounds like your confusing your comments about my text with criticism on her answer
    – joeav
    Feb 16, 2015 at 18:58
  • 1
    I must disagree with this answer and side with @EdwinAshworth. Just about any non-count noun can be used in a count fashion when we're being unique in descriptive modification. "He was filled with a vague dread." You can't have two dreads (hair aside). "Hers was a loneliness born of insecurity, an insecurity rooted in [etc]..." "His mornings were awash in sunlight. It was a piercing, an all-revealing sunlight..." It might be a bit contrived, but it's common enough. Jan 20, 2022 at 16:27
  • 2
    @Andy Bonner I'd say it's best to avoid the terms 'count noun' etc and keep to 'count usage [of a noun]'. As with 'intransitive verb' etc. Jan 20, 2022 at 17:09

The count - non-count distinction has grey areas. Determiner use doesn't seem an infallible test.

In 'there was an eerie silence', which few would render 'there was eerie silence' [see these Google Ngrams], one wonders how one should really define countable as 'there were two eerie silences' sounds very strained.

One can have flu or the flu, but 'a flu' is not unknown.

The use of 'a' before a noun is not seen as a sufficient marker for a count usage by say CGEL. So

  • He took a pride in his appearance

is not seen as a count usage (*'He/They took 2/17/several/half a dozen prides in ...').


  • The state gave me a good education

(but not The state gave me two good educations).

  • I have an understanding of the principles involved

but not I have two understandings ....

  • I felt a strange warmth

but not They felt two strange warmths.

I'd say 'cast a blinding light on' and 'cast blinding sunlight on' are both notionally mass usages. Yes, the first takes the indefinite article, but not numerals. Perhaps the complication comes about as instances are countable (eg spells of sunlight), but light (in the sense used here) itself is not, and the two notions are somewhat conflated.


I've not been able to find any really good articles dealing with this use of the indefinite article with what seem to be better classed as mass rather than count noun usages (though notionality cannot be used as a test here [eg furniture; referent discrete, but almost entirely used in non-count usages]): these nouns fail the 'no a/an' test for massness but pass the 'no numerals' test. The problem is highlighted in the Indefinite vs. zero article before (modified) noncount nouns? thread at English Forums. CalifJim hazards what he concedes are guesses at analyses, but 'a gentle light suffused the scene' isn't in a semantic class he addresses.


In an article at Useful English is found:

In formal writing and literary works the article a/an may be used with some uncountable abstract nouns to show an unusual or temporary aspect of something. The indefinite article here has similar meaning to: such, certain, special, peculiar.

Compare these examples.

Formal / literary style:

The director spoke at the meeting today with an enormous enthusiasm.

A paralyzing horror overwhelmed him.

She smiled at us with an unusual friendliness.

Standard / everyday style:

The director spoke at the meeting today with great enthusiasm.

He was paralyzed with horror.

She smiled at us with unusual friendliness.

It makes sense to me. So the 'rule' indefinite articles cannot be used with mass nouns isn't strictly true. However, just which uncountable abstract nouns one 'may [use an indefinite article] with, to show an unusual or temporary aspect of something' isn't spelled out. Apparently, 'sunlight' isn't one of them.

  • hold on, my head is spinning
    – joeav
    Feb 16, 2015 at 19:55
  • I know! It sounds like he knows what he's talking about, I just don't recognize the language. ;-)
    – user98990
    Feb 16, 2015 at 21:00
  • I'm saying that '[what is] an answer to the technical question of whether I should drop the "a"' (by which I assume you mean a reason explaining what's going on) would perhaps be met by 'because it's a non-count noun'. The trouble is, that's really saying 'because you do'. I'm trying (not very well) to analyse syntactic and etic discreteness together (eg 'furniture' is normally used as a non-count noun but obviously consists of countable items). Feb 16, 2015 at 23:39
  • @EdwinAshworth Isn't it just a case of the general rule and irregularities? I'm more concerned with idiomatic use, the theory only helps me as clarification. And in general, I'm of the view that in language the emic takes precedence over the etic.
    – joeav
    Feb 17, 2015 at 13:29
  • I didn't think your 'Can anyone offer some enlightenment?', and especially your 'I would still like an answer to the technical question ...', were meant to invite a 'That's just the way people say it: idiom: end of story' answer. This topic overlaps with the usages of articles, on which Cobuild have written a 100+ page monograph. The number of in-between usages (Would you like less peas? He has a knowledge of French. A blinding light flooded the courtyard. *?A blinding sunlight flooded the courtyard.) is large and, I'd say acceptable examples are unpredictable. Feb 17, 2015 at 15:22

I would say/or stay with "sunlight"; let the readers imagination guide to "blinding"; stay with as few words as possible; don't be overly descriptive...

  • I'm translating, and the original has a "strong sun" lighting everything
    – joeav
    Feb 16, 2015 at 18:31
  • Whew! It's overwritten! Very symptomatic. Well, definitely not a "blinding sunlight," unless our character is about to meet God or something. Try, Morning rose and cast blinding sunlight over everything... Feb 16, 2015 at 18:35
  • So as to the question, you would drop the "a"? I'm editing the thread to include an alternate translation, just to play with it. please take a look.
    – joeav
    Feb 16, 2015 at 18:36
  • I would definitely drop the "a". I had the best teachers, they always said, "Drop any unnecessary words." It's always worked. Feb 16, 2015 at 18:39

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