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I would like to know if there is a rule regarding this phrase:

Some kind of...

On one hand we have an article (a but we can also have an):

  • Some Kind of a Nut
  • Some kind of a drug
  • Some kind of a conspiracy

On the other we have:

  • Some kind of screwball exercise
  • Some kind of union
  • Some kind of relationship

There are over 14000 hits on COCA without the article, and just around 2000 for when the article is used. What is the rule for using an article in this case?

Thank you!

  • I think British English always follows your second set of examples, without the articles. I think US American English uses both but I've no idea which USE uses most. – Robbie Goodwin Nov 14 '17 at 23:42
  • Since this seems still to be unsolved could Dominika or anyone else explain how an article might be useful in any of those examples? What might it contribute, or add or remove? My suggestion is that whether any rule makes them correct or not, all those articles are completely redundant. – Robbie Goodwin Nov 21 '17 at 19:46
  • The Ngram graph for "some kind of nut" (blue line) versus "some kind of a nut" (red line) is quite striking. – Sven Yargs Jan 6 '18 at 6:38
1

I, just like you, tried to answer this question many years ago, but sadly to no avail. I think there is no such rule per se, but to the best of my knowledge and according to most English grammarians, though I won't give you any references, the expression some kind of something actually takes no article. And you actually should say some kind of conspiracy with no article in front of the word conspiracy. But you will, of course, hear both forms used by native speakers. However, the version with no article is by far the most common. So, I recommend you stick with it.

1

Because "nut" and "drug" are single, accented syllables, and the preceding words "some kind" are doubly accented, sounding rather heavy and spondaic, the addition of an article in those particular instances lends a more flowing, dactylic feel. I might prefer the articled version with those single-syllable nouns if I'm being informal and trying to get the expression out quickly.

When the object of the prepositional phrase is of two and three syllables, on the other hand, it sounds less fussy without the article. So I think the choice is mostly related to the rhythmic qualities of each phrase.

Semantically, there seems to be a slight change but it's hard to pin down what that might be.

Spoken English often expresses meaning through vocal emphasis on certain words, so changing up the rhythm can subtly affect that output. English teeters between Latinate and Germanic roots, Germanic words tending to be unisyllabic and feeling more punchy and authoritative while Latinate options sound more theoretical and distant. That's why I think we prefer the article-less forms in these examples. But too much punch is jolting. We need flow as well. Adding "a" to the "screwball exercise" pulls it way off in the other direction and so makes it sound more humorous, like your cranky uncle gearing up for a rant.

Perhaps it might be argued that "nut" and "drug" are categories with well-defined members from which to choose, whereas membership in categories such as "relationship" and "screwball exercise" is more loosely defined. Therefore saying "a drug" or "a nut" lends a specificity to the subject being surmised at, that would not fit with the latter qualifiers. But regardless I tend to think that that choice, to add the article, is always optional.

Conspiracy is one of those groups without well-defined varieties, so I think to use it with the article here is to miscategorize it according to this tentative rule I've proposed. If someone did add the article, particularly in informal spoken English, I would think they were trying to be more colorful and dramatic by manipulating the rhythm of the phrase.

  • 1
    Sven Yargs, that is a striking NGram. I wonder if it has anything to with the dual meanings of "nut" to mean "botanical fruit with a hard shell" or "crazy person". – Minerva Apr 8 '18 at 3:16
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For what it's worth, Collins COBUILD English Guides: Articles says the following on the topic (pp. 12-13):

2.9 Converting count nouns to uncount nouns

Count nouns can be converted to uncount nouns when they are preceded by expressions like 'a type of', 'a kind of', 'a sort of', 'a variety of', or 'a breed of'. These expressions are followed by a noun with no article, so you say 'a type of cigarette' not 'a type of a cigarette'.

...a certain type of p͟l͟a͟y͟e͟r͟.
...a sort of t͟o͟w͟e͟r͟.
...a kind of d͟a͟n͟c͟e͟.
...an exotic breed of d͟o͟g͟.

Note that after plural expressions like 'types of' and 'kinds of', you can use either the plural form of a noun or the noun with no article: 'different types of chemicals' or 'different types of chemical'.

Occasionally, conversion of this kind can also happen after expressions like 'a piece of' and 'a bit of' when you are referring to something that you are regarding on this occasion as a substance, although it is normally regarded as an object.

Another child proffered a piece of b͟i͟s͟c͟u͟i͟t͟.
She took a piece of b͟e͟e͟f͟b͟u͟r͟g͟e͟r͟ from his plate.

0

If you substitute 'sort' for 'kind' you may find that sort sounds wrong (it does to my ears ) with an article; therefore my own rule is 'no article'

  • Carol that's a great idea and for me, it fails. For me, sort and kind sound equally bad with and equally good without articles. – Robbie Goodwin Nov 21 '17 at 19:43

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