At school I was taught that before the plural form we don't use the articles a and an. So why do people use a before big congratulations?


  • A Big Congratulations to Dr. Wei Cheng on His Latest Publication! link
  • A big congratulations to the Devs!
    They have put in an incredible amount of work this week to get this online up and running for all of us. They have handled communication with the community perfectly keeping us up to date ...
  • A big congratulations!
    We would like to say a massive congratulations to ‘Stumble’ and ‘Tripp’ for successfully completing a five day residential to become qualified regional Makaton trainers!
  • A Big Congratulations!
    Further to our article last month, we wanted to congratulate Jane Mason and Tom Wicks on their effort in Nottingham Life Cycle 5. Jane and her team completed her 50 miles, while Tom finished his 75 miles in the aid of raising money for dementia research.

  • A big congratulations to Hozier from Artists Den and Chase Sapphire Preferred for being nominated for "Favorite Artist- Alternative Rock" by the American Music Awards. link

plus many more found on the Internet.

  • Redefine "people", I know of no English-speaking person who would say that. – Law29 Jun 3 '16 at 19:30
  • By "people" I mean 471.000 results in Google when I type "a big congratulations". – Łukasz Szkup Jun 3 '16 at 19:33
  • 2
    Then provide the link - and don't forget that Google often gives results that do not exactly match your requested phrase. E.g. Did Google ignore the "a" part of your search term? – TrevorD Jun 3 '16 at 19:38
  • Despite what you (think you) found via Google, the short answer is that nobody who is speaking even semi-grammatical English would say "a big congratulations". If you think you have found evidence to the contrary, please edit your question and include said evidence. – Marthaª Jun 3 '16 at 19:45
  • 1
    I wonder if it's transferred usage from the phrase "a big thank-you", where the article is not incorrect. – JPmiaou Jun 3 '16 at 22:20

The term congratulation remains a noun whether it is used as an interjection or not. The term love in the exclamation, “Love you!” is still a verb, so I cannot help but disagree with @Spencer's analysis

However, it is interesting that congratulations is far more common than the singular congratulation. To say to someone Congratulation on your wedding! would be odd, but if you send someone a letter of congratulation that is acceptable.

From (my hard copy) Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary

congratulation /kənˌɡrætʃuˈleɪʃn/ noun 1 [U] the action of congratulating sb or of being congratulated: a speech of congratulation for the winner. 2 congratulations [pl] (a) words of congratulation: offer sb one's congratulations on his sucess. (b) (also infml congrats) (used as an interjection): Congratulations on passing your driving test!

My dictionary also informs me that the indefinite article a is used with an abstract uncountable noun when it is preceded by an adjective, e.g. We're looking for someone with a good knowledge of German.

Consequently, a big (and also a great big) is often collocated with welcome, and thank you, e.g.

and the fixed expressions:

  • a great many
  • a good many
  • a few people

are perfectly idiomatic in English, although ‘a’ precedes a plural noun.

I think native speakers would say a big congratulation if the singular form was idiomatic when congratulating someone, but it's simply not. Although the following are commonly said and heard in speeches, they do sound a little formal.

Native speakers are just used to using the plural noun form

see also: "Congratulation" vs. "congratulations"

  • So I assume that "a big congrats" acts the similar way as "a big thank you" and the "big contracts" is considered singular because we think of an (one) act of congratulating rather than many congrats in the plural. – Łukasz Szkup Jun 7 '16 at 9:54
  • @ŁukaszSzkup Yes, I would say "a big congrats" is an even more informal way of congratulating someone, although I don't say it myself, I do hear congrats being used. I think the "a big + Noun" is a very common collocation, we have: "a big round of applause", "a big thank you", "a big day / deal / hug..." etc. but congratulation, in the singular form, is becoming rare in speech. Perhaps in writing it is still used. – Mari-Lou A Jun 7 '16 at 10:22
  • I suppose it is a very informal way of saying " [a good] Many congratulations" – Mari-Lou A Jun 7 '16 at 10:32
  • Thank you Mari-Lou! So I'll just stick to saying "Big congratulations" or "Many congratulations" (without "a") to be correct both in speaking and writing. – Łukasz Szkup Jun 7 '16 at 10:38
  • If you want to avoid using the indefinite article, then saying warmest / heartiest / many congratulations would be best. – Mari-Lou A Jun 7 '16 at 11:33

Just another one of those crazy things to trip over in English.

I would like to offer a big "Congratulations!" to Bill and Sasha.

The word congratulations here isn't a noun; instead, it's an interjection, made into a quotation and then stuck in a sentence in place of a noun.

The speaker is saying, in a roundabout way, that he would like to say "Congratulations!". Once. Thus making the article necessary.

The speaker could have said

A big "Way to go!" to Bill and Sasha

or, less awkwardly,

I would like to offer my congratulations to Bill and Sasha.



In this case saying "big congrats" would seem to indicate that you are giving multiple "congrats". The "a" before the phrase shows that you gave exactly one "big congrats", or gave told them "congratulations" in a big way only once.

  • Nobody ever gives anybody a "congratulation". That would be way too stingy. Ditto for a "thank". – Peter Shor Jun 5 '16 at 12:48
  • Lol well I'll give you a prop for that comment. ;) – timthebomb Jun 5 '16 at 16:48

I'm a native English speaker, and here are my thoughts:

This expression is chiefly British-English and, although technically wrong, is commonly used throughout the UK. Sadly, there are many phrases we use when speaking that would sound wrong to someone whose expertise is English as a second language.

An example and frequently used expression is the word and use of "sat" instead of "sitting".

We British often use "sat" in the following ways, "we were sat", "when you're sat for two hours on a hard bench, it's a killer" or "I was sat over there".

The above three examples wouldn't sound wrong to most native English speakers because they're used in speech so often that they sound correct when, in fact, "sitting / was sitting" should've been used instead.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.