I got this confusion with a particular English grammar: when to say an independence. Like: as children mature, they develop an independence. (Actually...I don't think "an" is even necessary for "independence" when we say "a sense of independence.")

Other times, it's doesn't sound right to use "an". Like: we fought for independence.

My book explains that "an independence" refers to a continuously changing state in that sentence. But in the second one, independence is a concrete state.

Can someone explain how "an independence" is a continuously changing state and more importantly when to use "an"?

  • 2
    It largely depends on the exact context. If you refer to an independence, you might be implying there are other types of "independence" besides the specific one you're talking about. The independence that causes many two-year-olds to go through a "tantrum" phase isn't the same as the one that causes adolescents to challenge their parents as they make the transition from child to adult, for example. Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 14:13
  • That makes sense. Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 14:17
  • @FumbleFingers, so there can also be different senses of independence?? Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 14:18
  • I agree with @FumbleFingers (who seems also to justify that moniker towards the end of this comment). The same point, by the way (involving the distinction between count and mass uses of the same noun or noun phrase) applies to OP's phrase "a particular English grammar." Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 14:20
  • Obviously. To be "independent" can cover a huge range of possibilities, even when restricted to the context of children growing up. An independent child might be one who makes up his own mind what he wants to eat, one who can tie his own shoelaces or use the toilet unaided, for example. Or maybe he still lives at home with his parents, but is financially independent in the sense that he has a job and can pay his own way in life. Why do you think there should only be one exact meaning for a word like that? Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 14:24

1 Answer 1


"Independence" is an uncountable noun. When in doubt, I tend to think: Can I count independence as one independence, two independences, three..., etc.? If the answer is "yes", then the noun can take an indefinite article in any situation.

However, as commented by the members, an article can be used "figuratively" to mean a kind of in select contexts.

Your inquiry about independence being a continuously changing state, is thought-provoking. "Independence is a continuously (or continually) changing state" is correct. From childhood to old age, we can see how one's state of independence changes over time. This is a general statement and therefore, "an" cannot be used here.

  • 1
    In fact, many non-count nouns can be used as count nouns when referring to varieties or examples thereof, as FumbleFingers notes in a comment on the original question. As such, they may certainly take indefinite articles or other determiners used with count nouns (e.g. I wish you every happiness; He developed a dependence on codeine and a worse dependence on his parents; This paranoia would destroy her career, and later, her marriage).
    – choster
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 1:49
  • Could we say then that a dependence = a kind of dependence?
    – Sankarane
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 1:58
  • 1
    Yes, a dependence or an independence for that matter can refer to a type of example of them. The United States won independence from Britain, but it was an independence imperiled by domestic turmoil and economic crisis. In the first case, we are referring to the general concept of independence, but in the latter, we are singling out independence as experienced by the early U.S. against a theoretical vision of independence, or perhaps independence as experienced by other countries or at other times.
    – choster
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 2:08

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