Sometimes I read in books sentences where uncountable nouns are used with the article "a/an". For example

She fades like a dew before the sun.

Is it out of the common rules?

Sorry if this question seems to be stupid. I'm just trying to figure out all the usages of the articles that I don't fully understand.


4 Answers 4


Certainly, ‘dew’ is normally uncountable, but the writer precedes it here with the indefinite article for literary effect. Other meteorological phenomena, such as fog and mist, can be treated in the same way. It's not at all a stupid question.


We sometimes put 'a' or 'an' before an uncountable noun to indicate a type of that noun or an instance of that noun. For example:

  • We were driving in a dense fog. (An instance where the fog was dense.)

  • The sand was bright pink, not a sand I'm familiar with. (An unfamiliar type of sand.)

  • The air was filled with a most beautiful music. (A beautiful form of music.)

  • 1
    Another example: As the aerialist lost her footing, a hush fell over the crowd, but once she successfully flew to the other trapeze a roar of applause filled the circus tent.
    – oosterwal
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 17:05
  • Hushes and roars are countable. Fog, sand and music is not. Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 20:30
  • But then that is a general rule to keep an article; and, it has nothing to do with abstract/non-abstract! A racing car - A type of a car; A difficult situation - An instance where the situation was difficult! What's new in that?
    – Maulik V
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 6:34
  • @MaulikV What's different is that it turns an uncountable into a countable. For example, you can even say, "I read a story situated in a pre-historic France and one in a post-apocalyptic France. Of the two Frances, I found the pre-historic one the most ..." Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 16:26

Dew, mist, fog, rain, snow are meteorological phenomena. "A rain/fog/mist/dew/snow " can be used to describe a single meteorological occurrence of them. (So "We drove through a fog on our way to San Francisco." sounds O.K. to me. Here, adding the article a implies that it wasn't foggy the whole trip.) This doesn't work with hail, lightning, or thunder, because these phenomena are violent enough that one occasion of these is called a hailstorm, lightning storm, or thunderstorm.

  • The original post contains the following sentence: "She fades like a dew before the sun." — Why is "dew" countable here? What meaning does "a" have here? Thanks.
    – Loviii
    Commented Jun 13 at 13:57
  • @Loviii: There's really no reason not to say She fades like dew before the sun. Possibly a dew was used because women are countable, although I don't think that matters here. Commented Jun 13 at 14:33

If you want to keep it uncountable, you can use

She fades like dew before the sun

or you make it countable by saying

She fades like a drop of dew before the sun

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