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"A" small problem
PostPosted: Fri Sep 26, 2008 11:19 am Reply with quote
fraggleshubby
 
Joined: 23 Sep 2008
Posts: 2


My wife and I seem to have a problem. She hates that I like to ride bike. See, she likes to ride A bike or to ride her bike. She points out that you don't drive car, but that you drive a car.

I need to know why you drive a car but you don't play a hockey. You play hockey, but you don't play game of hockey, you play a game of hockey. So should I be riding bike, or riding a bike? And it occurs to me that a Nascar driver may drive many cars. In this case we say he drives cars for a living but drives a car in a race. So do I ride a bike to work everyday which means I ride bikes for transportation?


As you can see it is a small problem we seem to be having. It drives her nuts when I say I ride bike as she is sure that it should have the word a. It just seems very strange that I have been able to figure out how to use the words who and whom correctly, but am tripped up by the word "a". I mean I know how to pet a dog, but I rarely make a supper. Iinstead I seem to make supper. I listen to this podcast, or I listen to a podcast, heck sometimes I even just listen to podcastS; but I don't think I ever listen to podcast.

I don't know if there has been a show (or a segment) on when to use "a" and when not to, but I'ld be interested in finding out if this is just an English phenomenom or if German has the same type of problem.

The guy who thinks he rides bike but who's wife thinks he rides a bike,
Fraggleshubby
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2008 9:55 pm Reply with quote
Kathleen S.
 
Joined: 26 Sep 2007
Posts: 10


The reason you must use the article 'a' is because bike is a countable noun. Simply put, it has a plural. This is why you can not play a hockey, but you can play a game of hockey. You can't count hockey but you can count its games.

I take the side of your wife on this one, but I do have a suggestion:

Forget riding; why not simply bike to work?
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 28, 2008 9:55 am Reply with quote
thegooseking
 
Joined: 10 Sep 2006
Posts: 64
Location: Aberdeen, Scotland


Kathleen S. wrote:
Forget riding; why not simply bike to work?


Perhaps because, as they say, verbing weirds language.

This does, however, bring up another point: We don't say: "he drives a car to work," we just say: "he drives to work". He could be driving a tractor, an articulated truck or a herd of cattle, but we just take it as implicit that that means a car.

Similarly, as long as there's no reason to think one may be riding a horse, a camel or a rollercoaster, just saying: "I ride to work" would have the bike implied.

However, this is where it gets a bit confused. I don't know if this is a regional thing, but I would say "I ride the train," "I ride the bus," "I ride the monorail" or "I ride the tram". Clearly there exists more than one of each of these things, and they are countable, so why, as far as public transport is concerned, do we (or at least I) use the definite article rather than the indefinite? We might say "the car", since we're referring to the only car that is our car, (and I suppose there might be a similar justification for saying "the monorail" - that is, the only monorail in this city) but that doesn't really hold up for buses and trains.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 28, 2008 2:00 pm Reply with quote
Kathleen S.
 
Joined: 26 Sep 2007
Posts: 10


I am by no means a prescriptivist when it comes to language. Language is a living, breathing, plastic thing that grows to fit the society that uses it. A number of dictionaries now include bike as a verb. It is informal to be sure, but valid nonetheless.

I don't agree with the idea that the definite article is inapplicable when it comes to busses and trains, nor do I think it's limited to your area. You and I do not even live in the same hemisphere, but I use the definite article myself because I feel itís more accurate.

The fact that many a train exists in your area doesn't really matter when you are riding the only one that will take you to your specific destination.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 29, 2008 2:18 pm Reply with quote
fraggleshubby
 
Joined: 23 Sep 2008
Posts: 2


Kathleen S. wrote:
The reason you must use the article 'a' is because bike is a countable noun. Simply put, it has a plural. This is why you can not play a hockey, but you can play a game of hockey. You can't count hockey but you can count its games.

I take the side of your wife on this one, but I do have a suggestion:

Forget riding; why not simply bike to work?


So why do I make supper instead of making A supper as suppers are countable. Millions of suppers get eaten daily, yet when someone starts making a meal in the evening, they will say they are making supper. Not that they are making a supper. Is getting ready to make supper not the same as going out to ride bike? Or should I get ready to make A supper and go out to ride A bike?

As for just simply biking to work? Well this comes into another small problem. This may be a regional thing, but to bike to work seems to imply a motorized bike, while riding to work on a bike implies the man-powered variety.

As you can see this has really tripped me up, and I know that English evolves, but I seem to think that your argument (as well as my wife's) make sence, but seems to be arbitrarily followed, and therefore I do not see why "ride (A) bike" has to follow the rule where (make (a) supper) does not.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 29, 2008 4:33 pm Reply with quote
Kathleen S.
 
Joined: 26 Sep 2007
Posts: 10


To tell you the truth, that one tripped me up as well.

The only way it made sense to me was thinking about hockey and its individual games. You are presumably making supper for more than one person, so you would have individual plates of supper. The meaning also changes slightly depending on how you phrase it. Consider the following sentences:

I made suppers
I made supper
I made a supper

The first makes it seem as if you made several meals, and even though they were all "supper" they are in some way distinct from one another.
The second is a single meal with no specification as to how many people are eating it. The sentence could just as easily mean that you made dinner for 2 as it could 200.
The third, in my mind, makes it sound as if you are making a solitary meal for yourself (probably in the microwave).

Also, saying that you made a supper for you and your wife makes it sound like you are going to eat off the same plate. However friendly that is, it's probably not what you actually mean.
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2008 11:43 pm Reply with quote
Dennis
 
Joined: 05 Dec 2006
Posts: 26
Location: Bethesda, MD


It seems hard to apply a rule that sticks. This discussion reminds me of another thread where we discussed why the English tend to say "Sally was hurt and went to hospital" while I would say "Sally went to the hospital".
In this case it seems to be based on whether the word hospital is used in the same way. I suppose it doesn't really matter, the meaning is clear.

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"A" small problem
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