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I wasn't sure how best to phrase the title of this question.

I'm interested in constructions of the following form:

An estimated 50 people died in the bombing.

'An estimated' could be substituted with adverbs like 'approximately' or 'about', so it seems that prepending the indefinite article to certain words produces an adverb.

My question is why the indefinite article should function in this way.

For one thing, the use of 'a[n]' when the following noun is generally plural seems odd.

There are quite a few words that fit this pattern:

  • An additional ...
  • An approximate ...
  • An estimated ...
  • An extra ...
  • A good ...
  • A huge ...
  • A mere ...
  • A possible ...
  • A record ...
  • A scant ...
  • A whopping ...
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    Nice observation! – Kosmonaut Jan 25 '11 at 14:23
  • Why is not not 'estimatedly 50 people'? The 'estimated' refers to a counting word, and it seems logical to let it be an adverb. – shuhalo Jan 6 '13 at 14:43
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  • I know the linked question is more recent but I think Mari-Lou A's answer there is more complete than the two answers here. Also, the linked question is more general as it covers the structure with a numeral, and the one without a numeral. – sumelic May 1 '17 at 18:02
9

Dictionary.com's fifth definition of a is:

5. indefinitely or nonspecifically (used with adjectives expressing number): a great many years; a few stars.

This usage of a is standard and often seen in this type of context.

  • 1
    I've seen such constructs very often. But I still wonder, what is the rule to follow to decide/choose between <article> + <adjective> + <number> + <noun> OR <number> + <adjective> + <noun>, for example: "an additional two tasks", or "two additional tasks"?! – Ivan Machado Mar 18 '14 at 17:50
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    I don't feel like this really answers the question "why should the indefinite article function in this way?"; it just shows that someone has observed the phenomenon before (or at least a related one). – Mike Shulman Nov 12 '15 at 7:26
1

Perhaps similar to Dante's answer: I think we use a article because we are referring to the "estimate" (or whatever), rather than to the "people", and there is only one estimate.

If I said, "I have prepared an estimate of $1000," I think there would be no question that "estimate" is singular and so calls for an article. The question is, when we say "estimated", as in, "The population will grow by an estimated 1000 people", estimated is beig used as an adjective, but what does it modify? "People"? But the people aren't estimated, it's the NUMBER of people that is estimated. When someone walks in a room, you might say, "Oh, he's a very tall person", but you wouldn't say, "Oh, he's an estimated person"! So in that sense, I think Dante is right that there's an assumed noun omitted from the sentence of "number" or some such word.

  • Or, perhaps, "an estimated" is simply an adverb that modifies the number adjective "50"? – Mike Shulman Nov 12 '15 at 7:23

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