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Here's a phrase from a song:

There's nothing a god can give to me that I can't give to myself

I put my beliefs in the things I believe and a god can take care of himself

It might seem kind of offensive, please don't pay much attention to the meaning of the phrase, what I'm curious about is solely a grammar stuff.

So, 1. Is it correct to use indefinite article before 'god' at all? 2. If god's already mentioned in the first sentence, would it be better to use 'the' before 'god' in the second one?

closed as off-topic by Janus Bahs Jacquet, Drew, Ellie Kesselman, Marv Mills, RegDwigнt Mar 13 '15 at 15:34

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    You are under the assumption that there is a single god. The songwriter is clearly talking about an arbitrary god in an array of gods. – Ian MacDonald Mar 12 '15 at 20:10
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    You don’t give any reasons why you think it wouldn’t be grammatically fine to use the word god with an indefinite article. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 12 '15 at 20:15
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    I'm not sure I'm under assumption that there is god at all:) – root1916 Mar 12 '15 at 20:34
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    We all know what the Earth is, too, but there's nothing wrong with an earth, either. Nor a universe, for that matter. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 12 '15 at 21:18
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    Even the monotheism of Judaism and Christianity concede gods From Exodus 12:12: For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord. John 10:34-5: Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? – Good A.M. Mar 12 '15 at 23:22
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The determiner a has several uses:

determiner

1.0 Used when mentioning someone or something for the first time in a text or conversation:

a man came out of the room

1.1 Used with units of measurement to mean one such unit:

a hundred

1.2 [WITH NEGATIVE] One single; any:

I simply haven’t a thing to wear

1.3 Used when mentioning the name of someone not known to the speaker:

a Mr Smith telephoned

1.4 Someone like (the name specified):

you’re no better than a Hitler

2.0 Used to indicate membership of a class of people or things:

he is a lawyer

3.0 In, to, or for each; per (used when expressing rates or ratios):

typing 60 words a minute

In this case, it seems the author simply wants to emphasize 1.2:

1.2 [WITH NEGATIVE] One single; any:

There's nothing [any] god can give to me that I can't give to myself

Alternately, if its to be interpreted as "one in a class", 2.0:

Used to indicate membership of a class of people or things:

2.0 There's nothing a god [among all of them] can give to me that I can't give to myself

The OP mentioned the first use of a, but it is irrelevant if the author's intent was an indefinite member of a class, or any member of a class.

  • Many thanks,I'm not a native speaker, and all this articles grammar is pretty tricky to me. I think different language which has no articles at all so I can't feel their using. And what about the second part of my question? If songwriter mentioned god in the first sentence, he obviously speaks about the very same god in the second one. Why not definite article is used there? – root1916 Mar 12 '15 at 21:02
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    In both cases, the author wants to emphasize an indefinite god. – ScotM Mar 12 '15 at 21:15
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There are three phrasings in question

  1. a god
  2. the god (or the God)
  3. God

The indefinite article (a god) is relevant to either a polytheist belief system (in which there is more than one god), a god independent of religion (as in comparing a god from one religion to a god from another, or to an ideal), or else somebody who is figuratively godlike (approaching perfection in a particular skill or knowledge, e.g. the top 50 users on this site are godlike).

Using a definite article (the god) is relevant to either a montheist belief system (in which there is just one god) or else somebody who is the definitive "best" (the most godlike) at a particular skill or knowledge, e.g. the #1 user on Stack Overflow (at this time of writing, #1 is 758k while #2 is 575k, so this is definitive). Capitalizing as the God refers to monotheism.

God without an article should always be capitalized. It refers to the god ahead of the speaker/writer's (monotheist) religion, particularly for Christianity and Judaism, both of which use "God" as one of their chief preferred proper names for that god.

Atheists tend to use a god, though may use the god or God as appropriate to whatever religion they are referring to. These lyrics are atheist. As they do not refer to any religions, they use the general case of a god.

 

When choosing a phrasing, be consistent. Assuming you're talking about a diety (rather than a person that is godlike), it is very important to always use the same format (within the same context). The song lyrics in question follow this advice.

  • It seems to me that you are imposing a theological side-conversation on a linguistic question. The OP only offers one phrasing: a god. The suggestion of the god had nothing to do with theology, but with syntax: "If If god's already mentioned in the first sentence..." – ScotM Mar 12 '15 at 21:25
  • @ScotM: I had to, to a degree. When "a god" refers to a deity, it implies there is more than one. When "the god" refers to a deity, it implies there is only one. Capitalized "God" without an article refers to a proper name, and only a few monotheist religions use that particular proper name. I've done my best to be objective and avoid anything dogmatic. My post was not meant to elicit any theological tangents. – Adam Katz Mar 12 '15 at 21:40
  • In terms of theology, I happen to agree, but linguistically: referring to the house does not even remotely imply that there is only one house; it simply identifies one house :-) Theology aside, the author of the song did not wish to identify one god. – ScotM Mar 12 '15 at 21:45
  • Houses are not gods and do not have these subtleties. – Adam Katz Mar 12 '15 at 21:49
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    It seems we share that frame of reference theologically, but in language, we must respect the frames of reference that other people use if we wish to communicate. Common ground among mankind: A god is generally any unspecified god among many; the god is an identified god among many; the God is the unique expression of monotheism. – ScotM Mar 12 '15 at 21:54
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God (with a capital letter) refers to the creator or supreme being worshipped by adherents of monotheistic religions. A (lower-case) god refers to any of the gods worshipped by adherents of polytheistic religions; Zeus, Krishna, Tara, Ra, Nut, Persephone, Thor, Kwan Yin and so on and so forth.

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