source: 60-Second Adventures in Thought (Open University)

How could a humble tortoise beat the legendary Greek hero Achilles in a race? The Greek philosopher Zeno liked a challenge and came up with this paradox. First, the tortoise is given a slight head start. Anyone fancying a flutter would still rush to put their money on Achilles. But Zeno pointed out that, to overtake him, Achilles would first have to cover the distance to the point where the tortoise began. In that time the tortoise would have moved – so Achilles would have to cover that distance, giving the tortoise time to amble forwards a bit more. Logically this would carry on forever. However small the gap between them, the tortoise would still be able to move forwards while Achilles was catching up. Meaning that Achilles could never overtake.

From the context, I think challenges (plural form) should be used to generally describe what kind of person Zeno is and then give specific example — came up with this paradox... I think this is more logical. It seems that liked a challenge has a plural meaning, but I feel very puzzled.

We say “I like flowers” = flowers generally. We don’t say “I like a flower” to describe flowers in general. Why is challenge different?

  • You don't believe in using paragraphs, do you. – Ricky Jan 19 '16 at 7:08

Your confusion seems to have come from misunderstanding the usage of the indefinite article a in the sentence. It is generally used "(1) when mentioning someone or something for the first time in a text or conversation" or "(2) to mean one single or any" according to Oxford Online Dictionary.

You could replace a challenge with a question or a difficult task.

"He liked a challenge" means "He liked any challenge, question or task he faced".

You could also use the definite article the before challenge if you want to refer to the question mentioned in the previous sentence. But using the the will make the meaning different as explained above.

When you say, "I like flowers, dogs, or cats," it means you like more than one flower, dog or cat. That's why you use the plural nouns when you say you like something generally. This is a completely different context.

[Oxford Online Dictionary, Wiktionary]


The use of the indefinite article here suggests a more intermittent affinity, rather than an all-encompassing love. Here, Zeno likes a challenge, with the implication that he enjoys one from time to time. If it said Zeno likes challenges, he enjoys them without qualification. Many people enjoy a challenge, but no one wants to face one all the time.


I'm no classical music fanatic, but I do enjoy a good symphony.

I love classical music. I enjoy symphonies.

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