In a dictionary, I found the following phrase: "in modern society" enter image description here

But when I used it in the following way and get the check from website "grammarly.com", it said I needed to add "a" before modern. Why do we need to add "a" when I used characterized after society?

In modern society characterized by a swift lifestyle, people have experienced ever-increasing complex lives.

  • 2
    Yes, though I should add that without the indefinite article, there ought to be a comma after “society”.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 0:35

3 Answers 3


grammarly uses statistics to enhance their models, I'm pretty sure.

The idiom without article can be found frequently enough that it might distinguish certain uses following a basic grammatical model.

I guess the participle throws it off because indeed it sounds odd. And they might support this finding with syntactic models.

Abstract nouns, often characterized by adjectives, take an article; "modern society" does not, because it's treated as a compound noun. The participle does count as (a) adjective, therefore an article is needed. This is just a rule of thumb I think, but it's reasonable to mark the head of a longer noun phrase clearly as such. It helps parsing. (b) technically it is a participle phrase, but for sake of illustration consider in a green and evergrowing society. Removing the article does not work here either.

Also, you need two commas if you omit the article, so that you have two sentence adverbial phrases, basically as if people or have was characterized by .... But, that is probably not what you intended. The same could be however an unimportant paranthetical. It is not.

The characterization is vital, then, because you select one of a many different modern societies.

  • 1
    If only use "in modern society,...", then no error reported. but if use "in modern society characterized by...", it reports error. So your comment makes sense: select one of many different type of modern societys.
    – Daniel Wu
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 1:47

You don't need to add an "a." You should take grammarly.com or any other grammar correcting software with a grain of salt. Recognizing correct English grammar in all cases algorithmically is an unsolved problem. You should expect that sometimes the software will make incorrect or unnecessary suggestions and sometimes it will miss errors.

In fact it did miss that you should've written "ever increasingly." While it's not ungrammatical to write ever-increasing, it almost certainly doesn't mean what you want.

  • 6
    But without the ‘a’ I’d want a comma after society.
    – Jim
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 0:17
  • 1
    I believe "ever-increasing" here is for "lives", not for "complex". So, the original passage tried to say complex lives are increasing, not that lives are increasingly complex, as far as I understood. Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 2:31
  • 1
    @techno I don't see how a life can increase. Could you explain that? Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 2:32
  • @MattSamuel I guess you're right. I confused "lives" here with the "lives" as in "the number of lives taken by the serial killer was huge." Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 2:38
  • 1
    Adverbs (mostly ending ending in -ly) do not get hyphenated in compound modifiers, according to the widely used style guide, "The Associated Press Stylebook."
    – user8356
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 14:10

Grammarly is being remarkably good at identifying this error. There is a difference between "modern society" in general and "a modern society" with specific characteristics.

  • 4
    Grammarly suggested the wrong fix, though. The intent seems not to selecting one modern society from many, but rather to select modern society from the various ages of society. It's then calling out the fast-lived aspect of that selected society. Compare: "In modern society, characterized as it is by a swift lifestyle, ..." - the error seems to be the lack of a comma, rather than the lack of 'a'. Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 8:45
  • Do we need to add "as it is" in "In modern society, characterized as it is by a swift lifestyle, ..."? how about "In modern society, characterized by a swift lifestyle, ..."
    – Daniel Wu
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 7:42

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