"Ultimately, as always, we compromise and her tea is a pale brown". Isn't the "a" redundant here? It sounds wrong to me.

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of A blinding light / blinding sunlight / a blinding sunlight
    – Lawrence
    Oct 12, 2018 at 0:51
  • @Lawrence: That question doesn't seem very similar to me. The word "sunlight" cannot be used as a predicative adjective (we can't say "It was very sunlight"), but the word "brown" can be (we can say "The tea was very brown"). I guess it is related in that "sunlight" is also a word that is not usually used as a count noun, but that can be preceded by the indefinite article when modified. But still, I think that the questions aren't duplicates of one another.
    – herisson
    Oct 12, 2018 at 3:35
  • @sumelic Both questions ask about the use of articles with qualified nouns. I see your point, though. Do you have a better dupe?
    – Lawrence
    Oct 12, 2018 at 5:49
  • 1
    When you see a sentence written by a native speaker that uses a construction that goes against the grammar rules you've been taught, the conclusion you need to draw is not that the author was incorrect, but rather that the rules you have been taught are incorrect. This is far more likely. The question to ask then is, "What is the rule being followed in this sentence?" That's much more likely to produce interesting answers. Oct 12, 2018 at 13:37
  • Loosely related (but not definitively answered): to adjust a red to a blue Oct 13, 2018 at 4:24

2 Answers 2


The sentence is fine with or without the "a". And the meaning is basically the same in both cases, even though grammatically it's different.

"Her tea is pale brown" - here, "pale brown" is an adjective.

"Her tea is a pale brown" - "brown" is a noun (i.e., 'a brown color'), and "pale" is an adjective modifying it.

  • Won't this make someone ask, "a pale brown what?"
    – Dante
    Oct 12, 2018 at 2:11
  • I know we can use an indefinite article before an adjective describing a noun, but this isn't something I've heard of before
    – Dante
    Oct 12, 2018 at 2:12
  • 2
    "a pale brown what?" - a pale brown color. Oct 12, 2018 at 2:19

No, it's not wrong. When a color term modified by an adjective (like "bright red"; see the previous question "Bright" Part of speech) is used as a predicate, it's idiomatic to put the indefinite article in front. The use of the indefinite article is not mandatory, though (it would not be incorrect to say "Her tea is pale brown"). As Mike Baranczak mentioned, color terms like "brown" are used both as nouns and as adjectives.

If the word "pale" were not in the sentence, it would sound unnatural to use "a": we wouldn't say "her tea is a brown". But we could say "her tea is a muddy brown" or "her tea is a deep brown".

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