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Here's a text from an exercise of Hewins's grammar book:

"The door kept flying open in the wind so I tied it up with string."

I don't understand why the indefinite article is left out before the word "string" in defiance of the fact that "string" is a countable noun.

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    "String" can be both countable and uncountable. There are many words like this. The countable form of string means something different, just as the countable version of tape means something different from the uncountable version.
    – Robusto
    Sep 10, 2015 at 12:25
  • Here "string" is used in the same way as one would say "stuck it with tape" Sep 10, 2015 at 12:37
  • So if I used "I tied it up with A string" would it be grammatically correct?
    – kacherese
    Sep 10, 2015 at 12:40
  • @kacherese, that would be correct if you used a single piece of string. If you used multiple pieces of string, you would probably use the uncountable 'string' .
    – DyingIsFun
    Sep 10, 2015 at 17:01

2 Answers 2

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As Robusto said, 'string' can be both countable and uncountable. It can mean both the thing in general (uncountable) and a single piece of it (countable). So both of these are grammatical:

  • "I found string on the floor" (i.e. an indefinite quantity of it)
  • "I found a string on the floor" (i.e. a single piece of it)

Given that, all three of the following are grammatical:

  • "The door kept flying open in the wind so I tied it up with string." (i.e. I used an indefinite amount of the generic substance)
  • "The door kept flying open in the wind so I tied it up with a string." (i.e. with one piece of string)
  • "The door kept flying open in the wind so I tied it up with the string." (i.e. with one specific piece or quantity of string, )
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  • Also, "with strings" (indefinite, countable and plural) and "with the strings" (definite, countable and plural) are options. The original sentence doesn't tell us whether a single countable piece or plural countable pieces were used. We only know about the use of some uncountable stuff with a stringy nature. Sep 10, 2015 at 17:05
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If the author said "with the string" he would imply that the reader knows of what string he speaks. But that is not the case. But it might be that in the text the author mentioned that there lay a piece of string under the table. Then he could say "with the string" (that was under the table).

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