On a trip to Montreal, I decided to get a haircut. My hairstylist was Sylvie, who spoke French fluently and English better than she realized.
We talked about many things, and eventually she asked me what I do for a living. After I told her I worked at a newspaper, she asked what my specialty was. I told her that I was an editor and that I also write a grammar column.
In disbelief, she asked, "You write a whole column just on the grammar?" I said yes. She still wasn't sure she heard right.
She said she knew the French language was difficult -- all those verb conjugations -- but English was easy. (I didn't agree with her on this, but she was holding scissors.)
Finally she said, "You're like a Shakespeare journalist." I'll take that.
Then she turned to the woman who washes hair, and said in French (from what I could discern), "She writes a whole column on the grammar!"
I asked her about the French words for "the grammar," as she called it. It is "la grammaire."
The conversation prompted me to read an article or two on articles. (How often will I get to write such a sentence?)
An article is a word that attaches to a noun to give it a specific or nonspecific distinction. The three articles in English are "the," "a" and "an."
You don't just want "a" cookie. You are more discerning. You want "the" chocolate-coated one. The "a" is a nonspecific article. The "the" is specific.
The articles in English have no specific gender attached, as other languages do.
The foreign language I know best is Spanish, which uses gender-specific articles. "The table" in Spanish is "la mesa." "La" indicates that the noun is feminine and singular. "The bridge" in Spanish is "el puente." "El" indicates that the noun is masculine and singular.
I'm not at all sure why objects such as tables and bridges need gender designations.
In French, "le" indicates the noun is masculine; "la" indicates it's feminine. The hat, "le chapeau," is masculine whether a man or woman wears it. The chair, "la chaise" is feminine whether it seats Goldilocks or Papa Bear.
Old English once used gender-specific articles, but they had faded from the language by the 1100s.
SOGGY CELLULOID HERO
Recent weather events make me wonder how anyone can love rain.
But we have "pluviophiles," pronounced PLOO-vee-uh-files. In the world of botany, pluviophiles are plants, such as ferns and moss, that love rain.
The word is from "pluvia," the Latin word for rain, and "phile," the Greek word for one who loves.
In my world, the greatest rain-lover of all is Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain.
And if anyone is wondering, I always add the second "g" to "singing" when I'm talking about the classic film.
Sources: Merriam-Webster, obscurewordlove.com, Oxford Dictionaries, wordsmith.org, encyclo.co.uk, bcliving.ca, hotword.dictionary.com
Reach Bernadette at
ActiveStyle on 09/04/2017
Print Headline: La grammarian's lesson on articles