There's no denying that the phrase there is a God is in use, as shown in these examples.

The New York Times, 2020:

When the nefarious Cardinal Richelieu died in 1642, Pope Urban VIII is said to have declared: “If there is a God, the Cardinal de Richelieu will have much to answer for. If not … well, he had a successful life.”


Pope Urban had it right. If there is a God, Kissinger has much to answer for.

The New York Times, 2019:

If there is a God — and Doyle fervently believed there is — “One Long River of Song” will change all that.

Granted, the phrase should be grammatical given that we have many of these attested example written by educated writers, but I've got some questions about the use of the indefinite article a along with the capitalized God.

The first question is whether God here is a proper noun or a common noun, which is nicely answered by @nohat in a 2010 ELU post:

To summarize the proper noun/common noun usage, I think the easiest way to handle the situation is to capitalize the word god when it is used as a proper name as the name of the god of a monotheistic religion, such as the god of Christianity or Judaism, and not capitalize it when it is used as a common noun:

So it looks like God here "is used as a proper name as the name of the god of a monotheistic religion, such as the god of Christianity or Judaism".

Then comes the second question: If it's a proper noun, how could you possibly add the indefinite article?

Grammatical names aside, does a God still refer to "the god of a monotheistic religion, such as the god of Christianity or Judaism"?

Moreover, the following article even has the expression that God:

The New York Times, 2017:

If, as many people believe, there is a God, and that God made us in his own image, then of course we are distinct from nature, just as He is.

So, now you can add the demonstrative determiner that as well as the indefinite article before a proper noun. What's going on here?

Considering all this, I'm not sure I even understand what the phrase there is a God is supposed to mean. Please help.

Here's a new example worth considering: The New York Times, 2022:

Is there a God? If there is, can we interact with him, her or it? If so, how? Can God speak to us? Can God say no to us?

Here, the writer initially wrote a God, but then changed it to just God without any article. Apparently, the writer is referring to the same entity. What does this tell us?

  • 8
    I think you are mixing religious concepts with ordinary speech. If you want to understand the above sentences forget about the former and concentrate on the latter.
    – Gio
    Sep 5, 2022 at 15:20
  • 8
    Why can't one use an indefinite article with a name? "Is anyone in this town named Horatio?" "Yes, we have a Horatio, and he lives over there." Sep 5, 2022 at 15:48
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach Although I have cited nohat's answer as "an" answer to my first question and then presented my second question, you certainly can post an answer that rejects nohat's answer and start from there. So I don't understand why you don't know how to answer it.
    – listeneva
    Sep 6, 2022 at 8:38
  • 1
    @Gio I'm purely looking at it as a grammar question. Where in my question do you suggest I'm "mixing religious concepts with ordinary speech"?
    – listeneva
    Sep 6, 2022 at 19:54
  • 4
    Closing this seems a little harsh. There is a legitimate question: what is the difference between "a God" and "a god"? I don't know if the slightly aggressive tone or the mere mention of God has upset people.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 7, 2022 at 8:59

7 Answers 7


I doubt that anybody can give a definite answer to this question. If one were to ask the people who write 'a God', what exactly they had in mind when they combined the indefinite article with what appears to be a proper name, chances are that they wouldn't have an answer readily available. Two hypotheses about what is going on here can, however, be offered.

(1) God is here simply a common noun, and the people who write 'if there is a God' capitalise it in error. The cause of the error is that the adherents of a particular monotheistic religion develop the habit of capitalising the word in the context of that religion, and then unthinkingly act on that habit even when they are outside that context.

(2) God here has a meaning that is between its broad common-noun sense (any god of any religion) and being a proper noun (God, as postulated by a specific monotheistic religion). Those who write 'if there is a God' probably want to set aside polytheistic religions, and focus on the monotheistic ones, but, at the same time do not want to limit what they are saying to one specific religion. On this hypothesis, 'if there is a God' is a shorthand for something like 'if there is a god whose characteristics roughly accord with what the major monotheistic religions have in common (but that may or may not accord with the details of any one of them)'. The wording combines multiplicity and uniqueness: it covers the multiplicity of different conceptions of a being that is, within each of these conceptions, unique.

  • Thanks! This is similar to something I have been hypothesizing myself when thinking about the question, but is only better thought out. Did you just come up with this answer after reading my question? Or is this something you've thought about before? Also, would there be any resources to cite to support your answer?
    – listeneva
    Sep 6, 2022 at 2:25
  • I've added a new example.
    – listeneva
    Sep 6, 2022 at 11:07
  • (2) Sound analysis. Agreed. Those (monotheists) who believe accord their god a proper name "God". "If there is a God" asks the reader to consider the existence of such a single god.
    – Anton
    Sep 6, 2022 at 11:28

I understand If there is a God as, If there is any (divine) justice in this world. Whereas There is a God!, as shown in the comments, expresses the positive acknowledgement that miracles do happen.

Technically, the presence of the indefinite article has very much to do with 'the existential construction' there is which requires the presence of a determiner when used with countable nouns. YourDict explains:

  • There is a student in class today. (countable)
  • There is smoke in the air. (uncountable)

Notice the determiner, such as a or one, when the noun is countable (student). You can replace these determiners or add adjectives — for example,

  • There is another new student in class today.

When the noun is uncountable (smoke), you don’t need a determiner after is, but you can add one anyway

  • There is so much smoke in the air.

If you think of proper nouns, you would never say:

*There is John in every community.


There is a John in every community.

This site about academic writing from the Lund University explains:

The postponed subject [following there is] has indefinite reference. Thus definite noun phrases, e.g. proper nouns, pronouns with definite reference, e.g. personal pronouns, or full noun phrases introduced by definite determiners are only possible with the so called ‘list’ reading:

  • Well, there’s Bill… and John, and maybe a few others.
  • In the first and third examples of the OP, "If there is a God" doesn't really mean "If there is any (divine) justice in this world", does it? // So you think that the OP's "God" is a proper noun, and that it is accompanied by "a" simply because it's used in the existential construction. But "There is a John" means not that there's only one person named "John", but that there's at least one such person. However, "There is a God" doesn't mean in the OP's examples that there's at least one entity named "God", does it?
    – listeneva
    Sep 6, 2022 at 2:17
  • I've added a new example.
    – listeneva
    Sep 6, 2022 at 11:07

The indefinite article in this case means "some form of."

If there is some form of God ...

There's an actor called Brad Pitt. Or is there? Maybe, just maybe, there's a bunch of look-alikes acting in movies, donating to charities, marrying and divorcing, but they're mere doubles? Wouldn't that be something!

So, if there is a Brad Pitt, he must be a very private person.


So, if there is some form of Brad Pitt, he must be a very private person.

I hope this helps.

  • 1
    I've added a new example.
    – listeneva
    Sep 6, 2022 at 11:07
  • @listeneva: Yes. Is there a Listeneva? Does some form of Listeneva exist? If he or she or it does, can we speak to him, her, or it? Would this Listeneva answer us? Can Listeneva say no to us?
    – Ricky
    Sep 8, 2022 at 6:48
  • I don't believe that the phrase "If there is a God" in the OP means "If there is some form of God". They all mean "If God exists", not "If some form of God exists".
    – listeneva
    Sep 9, 2022 at 3:22
  • @listeneva: But it does. "If there is a(n) Alaska, Australia, Vatican, Milky Way, Johnnie Cash, Giacomo Puccini, listeneva, gas known as oxygen, Sun, King of Belgium ..." and on and on.
    – Ricky
    Sep 9, 2022 at 4:48
  • When someone says "If there is a God", they're asking about the very existence of God, not the existence of "some form of God", whatever that means. Are you saying that "If God exists" means "If some form of God exists"?
    – listeneva
    Sep 9, 2022 at 5:52

Your question asks why an indefinite article would be used with something that is considered to be unique. That is, if there is only one, how can references to it be anything other than definite?

Grammatically, there are (at least) two situations where this would arise.

  1. When you are allowing multiple instances for sake of argument, such as in the protasis of a conditional:
  • If I'm speaking with anyone, I'm speaking with you

Even in the case that I am speaking only with you, the protasis considers the possibility that I might be speaking with someone else - even though in reality, there is no one else I am speaking with.

  1. Pointing out that there is (at least) one instance.
  • There is a bowl of fruit on the table.

Even if the table only has one bowl of fruit and there is no possibility of a second, you can use the indefinite article as a synonym for "one" - "there is one bowl of fruit on the table". Using the indefinite article instead of a number removes the stress on the number.

Your quote combines both of these ideas, particularly the second:

  • If ... there is a God, and that God made us in his own image, then ... .

Whether "God" is a common noun or proper noun depends on the author's intent. Even if it was intended as a proper noun, the grammar does not need to constrain "if there is a God" to exactly one individual. Here, though, the choice is not between one and many, but between none and one. The term "that God" is simply referring back to the antecedent "a God". This is common usage - e.g.

  • There is an apple on the table. The/that apple is red.

The first reference to "apple" uses an indefinite article, but the second reference refers to the first as its specified instance, so a definite article (or an equivalent) is appropriate.

  • New York Times journalist Erin Marquis once tweeted, "I hope there is a God and they met that God someday." So, I'm afraid your first point is moot. As for your second point, the very reason that bowl is a common noun is that it doesn't refer to a specific bowl, and that 'bowl' doesn't carry any uniqueness. Even when you use a proper noun as in Is there a John here?, John doesn't carry any uniqueness. But how about God in Erin Marquis's tweet? I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure she's specifically talking about the Christian god.
    – listeneva
    Sep 9, 2022 at 3:02
  • @listeneva That's the point of the 'embedded-in-conditional' idea. Even though she had the Christian God in mind, the conditional abstracts out some specifics. Making the noun less specific allows her to use the indefinite article.
    – Lawrence
    Sep 10, 2022 at 5:37
  • What 'conditional' are you talking about? There's no conditional in her utterance. Also, what is the 'embedded-in-conditional' idea? Honestly, I don't understand a single sentence from your last comment. Please enlighten me.
    – listeneva
    Sep 11, 2022 at 1:16
  • @listeneva A sentence of the form "If <condition> (then) <assertion>" is called a conditional. Someone saying "If you chose black you win" isn't saying that you chose black - they're saying that winning is conditional on (i.e. depends on) you having chosen black. If you didn't actually choose black then you didn't win, but it doesn't make their statement wrong. By "embedded-in-conditional", I meant that the phrase "there is a god" is in the "if <condition>" part. At this point, the speaker isn't yet narrowing the term "god" to the Christian God, so she could say "a god" rather than "the God".
    – Lawrence
    Sep 25, 2022 at 15:56
  • But in Erin Marquis's tweet, there's no "if".
    – listeneva
    Oct 11, 2022 at 1:58

I don't think any uncapitalized god would do. Only one conceived as the ultimate source of cosmic justice. As in, "Is there a god as omnipotent and just as the one the Christians call God"?


The indefinite article a in this particular context indicates that the subject of the question, God, is being considered hypothetically, not as one of many, or an instance of a class.

Let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that there exists a Supreme Being people have named "God".

There can be only one Supreme Being, as the adjective indicates. But the existence of a Supreme Being is not a given, at least not in the minds of those who are considering the Supreme Being only on a hypothetical basis.


They claim to have seen a pig flying in the sky above their small village. The pig, they say, has golden wings, and they have named it "The Golden Sow". Now supposing there is a Golden Sow, would it fall under the laws of this commonwealth governing farm animals? Or would the Federal Aviation Administration be the appropriate body to consult?

To paraphrase, "supposing there is such a being which people refer to as "The Golden Sow".

The Golden Sow implies existence and uniqueness, whereas a Golden Sow concedes those attributes only on a hypothetical basis. The indefinite article is this kind of context might be accompanied by the speaker putting the noun in "scare quotes".


The Cambridge English Dictionary, on punctuation and grammar says the following:-

Punctuation: capital letters (B, D) and full stops (.) We use capital letters to mark the beginning of a sentence and we use full stops to mark the end of a sentence:

We went to France last summer. We were really surprised that it was so easy to travel on the motorways.

The Football World Cup takes place every four years. The next World Cup will be held in South Africa. In 2006 it was held in Germany.

We also use capital letters at the beginning of proper nouns. Proper nouns include personal names (including titles before names), nationalities and languages, days of the week and months of the year, public holidays as well as geographical places:

Dr David James is the consultant at Leeds City Hospital.

They are planning a long holiday in New Zealand.

Can she speak Japanese?

The next meeting of the group will take place on Thursday.

What plans do you have for Chinese New Year?

We use capital letters for the titles of books, magazines and newspapers, plays and music:

‘Oliver’ is a musical based on the novel ‘Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens.

The Straits Times is a daily English language newspaper in Singapore.

They are performing Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony.

In addition to closing sentences, we also use full stops in initials for personal names:

G. W. Dwyer

David A. Johnston, Accountant

Full stops are also used after abbreviations, although this practice is becoming less common.

It omits one semi-usage, which is the use of (or reference to) capitals as a mark of the importance (or scale) of the item or being referred to. I mean importance with a capital I.

As has been already said, if you are a polytheist, each of the recognised deities has a proper name, so capitals are not required. Moreover, there is no reason to feel the need to use a capital in the sentence "I believe there exists at least one god."

If, however, you have like I have, grown up with a monotheistic religion, you will know that the word God is actually being used as the name of this single and only deity in prayer. And in the Hebrew world the proper (small 'p') name of the one deity cannot even be uttered.

There is a further use of the capital (or the idea of the capital) when we refer to degrees of importance and speak of being, for example, conservative with a 'capital' or 'small' c (or should I have written C?). The same deity often has a capital H at the beginning of the personal pronoun when it refers to Him. So for Christians, or even lapsed Christians, like me, the name of the single deity has become a proper name.

So the problem is a real one, but is a state more of mind than of punctuation.

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