Problems with English? Questions? Vocabulary, grammar... Post here :)
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I really felt bad for you after reading that thread of yours and your blog too.. somehow I feel that you are spoiling your present in thinking about all that. Why not live in the current moment and think how to make the best out of the it !
Here, the term "good health" is thought of as an abstract state (being healthy) rather than as a physical thing (a place/room/something called a "good health").
It's nothing to do with it being an abstract state. There are abstract states that can be preceded by the article 'a':
Give it a thought (thought is not a physical thing)
an abstract state (state here is not a physical thing)
The reason 'a' should be dropped here is that the noun 'health' in English is considered UNCOUNTABLE (it can NOT be counted as in one health, two healths, etc)
Other words like that would be: water, air, flour, furniture, advice, etc.
For that reason, you would NOT say: a water, an advice.
You'd say: a drop of water, a glass of water, a piece of advice, etc.
But the reason that uncountable words are uncountable is typically that they are abstract. "Thought" is abstract; "a thought" is thought that has been particularized by content that is more or less concrete. "State" is abstract (as in: "this application holds state") but "an abstract state" is more concrete because it is narrowed down by its adjective, just as "the state" of something is concrete because it has been narrowed down by the range of conditions that such a thing can be in.
Why is it "philosophy of mind" but not "philosophy of the mind" if one of my favourite English poems starts with "Oh the mind, mind has mountains"? "Life in the twentieth century" but "The life of Brian"? Why is it "apples are good for you" or "I like dogs better than cats" although apples, cats and dogs are perfectly countable? Why are the people living next door "the neighbours" and those living two streets down plain "neighbours" (someone else's, of course, therefore not less countable but more abstract).
If I were to translate directly from my native Dutch, I would say "Philosophy of the mind", just as I would say "the life in the twentieth century". Yet I would use "mind" and "life" without an article in other contexts.
I think that abstraction is the more basic factor. As notions of concrete vs abstract differ from language to language ("Bread" in English, "brood" in Dutch, but "le pain" in French...), it is not surprising that many foreign learners have a hard time getting it right all the time (my experience is you need to immerse yourself in the language as logical thinking in terms of "countability" frequently leads to mistakes).
But the reason that uncountable words are uncountable is typically that they are abstract.
Fair enough, but as it doesn't hold true in 100% cases. We can argue all day about the levels of concreteness/abstractness of particular meanings, but the fact remains that not all abstract nouns are uncountable. Similarly, not all concrete nouns are countable.
"Thought" is abstract; "a thought" is thought that has been particularized by content that is more or less concrete....
You're right that we perceive 'a thought' as something far more concrete than 'thought' in general, but it doesn't make 'a thought' a linguistically concrete noun. It's not something that we can hear/touch/see. It still remains an abstract noun.
Besides, I think I can safely assume that a learner who is not sure whether to put 'a' or not does not have your linguistic competence to apply their own judgment in such cases.
For thousands years languages across the world have been shaped by the culture, beliefs and other factors inherent to a given community. This resulted in a situation that the concepts present in two different languages can be totally different. For that reason, applying linguistic knowledge present in a learner's native language to test hypotheses about a target language is inevitable at the beginning, but ideally should be eradicated as soon as possible.
That's another reason why I think that learners should first learn the rules of a language in order to later understand and play with it.
You didn't spoil my mood at all...I was just a little surprised that you had read about my little "predestination problem" and responded to it here. My response was basically saying that I shouldn't really have been so surprised, since after all, this is a public internet forum.
Hmmm..that's an interesting one. I personally would use the latter ("I once told my boss"), but I think the former is also acceptable. Or not, I don't know. I think the former is used more in casual conversation (grammar isn't always perfect then ), but the latter is probably better grammar.
Stictly "once" means "one time". Thus it most commonly refers to past events but can be used for present and future as in "I'm telling you once" and "I will tell you only once".
"I had once told my boss" means that previously to the past time being discussed I had told my boss once (and only once).
"I once told my boss" means just that. It happened some time in the past. Dropping the "had" takes away the sense of a past time being discussed. I think "had" makes the pluperfect -- describing actions in the past before the past.
"I had told my boss" means that previously to the past time being discussed I had told my boss (an unspecified number of times).