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“Yes; or for a girl.” In this respect our language has a decided superiority over other languages; in them, one word performs the office both of what grammarians term an article, and of a numeral. In French, for instance, Donnez moi un livre means either ;-Give me one book, i.e., not two or more; or it means ;—Give me a book, not something else. In Latin, likewise;" filius “ regis” may mean;—"A son of a king”,
" A son of " the king”, “The son of a king", or " The son
of the king”; and if we wish to explain, in English, which of these four senses the expression is intended to convey, we have to employ several additional words. It is a curious fact, mentioned in a recent number of "The Athe'næum', that we English alone of all nations, ancient or modern, have a bonâ fide article which is distinct from “one”, though contracted from "one" and meaning "one". No nation but ourselves could use such expressions as;—“Give “ me half one”, “Not such a one as that”, “Give me a ripe one”.
That “a” is not synonymous with "one", is evident from our not being able to use it interchangeably with one". We may say;—"This one thing I do”; but we cannot say;—"This a thing I do”.
But although “a" is not synonymous with “one”, it always implies unity; and can therefore never be used but in speaking of one, or in speaking of many things collectively; i.e., of many things considered as one.
a one”, " thousand”, “a quantity”, "a number", a multi"tude”. But though we say “a multitude", which means many, we never say
” Yet, by a strange caprice of idiom, we say “a great many”, “a few”, and “many a";
many a gem of purest ray serene
This form is allowable in poetry; but in prose, it is generally preferable to say ;—“ many gems”, many flowers".
While speaking of “a few", it is worthy of remark that the importance of the little word "a is never more manifest than when it precedes the word “ few”; for, the word "a" so qualifies it, that it signifies something quite different, when written without the “a”, from what it does when written with it; e.g.:
"Few persons really believe it;—it is incredible.”
"A few persons really believe it ;--it is not in “ credible.”
The same remark applies to “ little” and “a
“He thought little about it ;-it was a matter of indifference to him.” “He thought a little about it ;-it was not a matter of indifference to him.”
When we use the words " * few and “ little" without “a” before them, we represent that of which we speak, as being inconsiderable; but by using "a" before them, we amplify-we represent the thing spoken of as not being inconsiderable.
There is another important use of the word 'a” which we must notice. If we say ;—“He “ would make a better statesman than lawyer”, we mean that he has qualities which render him more fitted for the senate than for the bar; but if we say ;—“He would make a better
statesman than a lawyer”, we mean that he would make a better statesman than a lawyer would.
Again, when we speak of a man as holding several offices at once, we put “a” before only
the first of those offices; as:"a director, secre“tary, and treasurer.” Were we to put “a” before each of the names, we should no longer be speaking of one man holding three offices, but of three men, each holding one office. So, likewise, is it with words descriptive of qualities; e.g.:"A long and dusty road” is a road which is both long and dusty; but, “A long and a dusty “road” means two roads; of which one is long, and the other dusty. However, when the things spoken of are obviously two or more, there is not the same necessity for repeating the article before each one.
The article"a" has several meanings. Sometimes it means "each”; as :-"The high priest “shall make an atonement for the children of “Israel, for all their sins, once a year”, i.e., once each year. Sometimes it means“any”; as:"If a man love me, he will keep my words"; i.e., if any man. Sometimes it means
one in particular; as :-“He sent a man before them, even “ Joseph.” Sometimes it means "every"; as: “ It is good that a man should both hope and “quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord"; i.l., every man.
Sometimes "a" is used before the name of a
person; as :-"He is a Smith"; meaning he is of the family of the Smiths. Here, in written language, the capital letter at the beginning of the name shows it to be that of a person, and not of a trade. But in spoken language the distinction cannot be so easily made; therefore, in conversation, that form of expression should be avoided; for if, in answer to my inquiry,—“Who is that?” I am told;"He is a Smith ", I am doubtful whether my informant is speaking of the person's family, or of his occupation; and if the name should happen to be that of an animal; as, for instance,-"Bull”, or“Fox";—it would be particularly offensive to say ;-" He is a Bull”, or “He “is a Fox"; for-though, of course, the hearer would not understand the person to be a quadruped—the words might be understood to mean that he is ferocious or is cunning. The proper expression would be ;—“He is a Mr. Smith”, or, a Mr. Fox."
But a” is very properly used before the name of a person whose extraordinary qualities have made his name proverbial for that in which he excelled. For example, we say ;-"He is a “Samson”, meaning, he possesses almost superhuman strength;—"He is a Nero”, meaning, a