I encountered the following sentence:

In programming, types are a means of classifying values.

According to Google, "are a means of" and "is a means of" are used a lot.

According to "A Concise Dictionary of Correct English",

the plural of the noun mean, may be treated as a singular, as in a means to an end.

I wonder, in which cases it is appropriate to use indefinite articles with plural nouns. Is it reserved only for special cases or it can be used whenever someone feels that something is singular?

Fox example, subtitles distributed in a file look like a singular thing. So, at some point of my life, I wrote something like

The torrent has only an English subtitles, but I want a French ones too.

I still have a feeling that I did something wrong, but I don't know how to word it better.

  • This happens with plurale tantum sometimes; I've heard "a scissors" before, though personally I would never say that. – Dan Bron Jun 1 '17 at 20:05
  • @DanBron and people say a scissor (Google it), so the word does not actually occur only in the plural. – AmE speaker Jun 1 '17 at 20:08
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    Yes, we use a/an with singular count nouns, so in a means to an end, means is indeed being "treated as a singular" noun. Some can often be used as a plural indefinite determinate. So your last sentence can be 'The torrent has only English subtitles, but I want (some) French ones too.' Note: some is optional here and doesn't change the meaning much. – AmE speaker Jun 1 '17 at 20:12
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    Some is indefinite, but it's not an article; it's a quantifier. – John Lawler Jun 1 '17 at 20:13
  • And to make it clear, an English subtitles is incorrect, because the word subtitles is not considered (or "being treated as") a singular noun. No native speaker speaking standard English uses it that way. An example with a plural count noun is Some kites fly higher than others. – AmE speaker Jun 1 '17 at 20:16

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