I have (maybe a silly) question about the grammar of determiners and nouns which I can never seem to elucidate correctly. When we have a countable noun we use a determiner be it premodified or not:

A man. A great man.

But what happens with UNCOUNTABLE NOUNS when they are pre-modified? Think of this:

A person of () wealth, but An enormous wealth of knowledge

Does the fact that the uncountable noun is pre-modified imply a certain degree of determination and perhaps that is why a determiner sounds appropriate?

  • 2
    The sentences you have use different definitions of "wealth". It's not unusual for words to have countable and uncountable definitions, as is the case here. – Laurel Mar 18 '18 at 2:19
  • In general a selects count singular nouns: a cup, but not *a crockery. But there are a few exceptions, such as Ed has a good knowledge of Greek, I have a high regard for them, A number of problems remain. – BillJ Mar 18 '18 at 9:40

I suppose the presence of a premodifier might be relevant to the use of determiners in some cases, but I don't see any general pattern along the lines of the one that you are suggesting. It is certainly possible for an uncountable noun to come after one or more premodifiers, but no determiner. In fact, many common phrases are of this form: "hot water", "cold water", "whole milk", "good advice", "wet sand". (Uncountable noun phrases like this can be used without a determiner either in generic or in specific contexts: e.g. "Good advice is valuable", "Cold water is a common beverage" or "Alex gave you good advice that will help you solve your problem", "I splashed cold water on my hands." For the second pair of sentences here, the non-count indefinite determiner "some" could be used, although it is optional: "Alex gave you some good advice that will help you solve your problem", "I splashed some cold water on my hands.")

"A wealth of X", with the indefinite article, is just an idiom that can be used whether or not "wealth" takes a premodifier: "George Curzon, for example, possessed a wealth of governmental and administrative experience" (Stewards of the Nation's Art: Contested Cultural Authority, 1890-1939, by Andrea Geddes Poole, 2010; p. 70).

The word "wealth" can be used with a premodifier and no determiner: "a person of great wealth", "They possess great wealth".

As Laurel mentions in a comment, many words have both uncountable and countable uses.

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