Mini-rant 6: The redundant indefinite article

I love Radio Cumbria, which keeps me abreast of what happens in my beautiful county. But I cringe when I hear one of its presenters utter “this sort of a thing”, which he does with unfailing consistency. The point is that the indefinite article “a/ an”, which indicates that the noun it precedes is not a particular one identifiable to the reader or listener, is simply wasted on phrases containing “sort of/ kind of/ type of”. This is because such phrases, by their very nature, refer to entities which are general. In other words, they convey the same indefiniteness as that conveyed by “a/ an”.
The use of the redundant indefinite article with such phrases is relatively common, although mostly in speech. But writing is by no means immune; below are given three examples from the British press.

It’s kind of a melancholy victory. (The Sunday Times)

By now I was starting to wonder just what sort of a man I was. (The Times Educational Supplement)

I only ask because I always thought the chillingly anal X factor guru [Simon Cowell] would be the most distant and cold sort of a dad. (The Sunday Times)


The formidable reputation of these newspapers notwithstanding, the “a” is redundant in each case.

Thus NOT:
*This sort/ kind/ type of a thing

This sort/ kind/ type of thing

A more substantial post will follow shortly.


6 thoughts on “Mini-rant 6: The redundant indefinite article

  1. I got busted for using redundant indefinite articles by the free version of the add-on program Grammarly eight times in about 3,000 words. The free program gives you a weekly progress report of errors and how you measured up against the rest of their clientele in errors, unique words used; can’t remember the other categories.

    I had no idea what an indefinite article was, typed it into Google and your website was at the top of the list.

    It is now 2017. Thanks and cheers, English maven.


    Liked by 1 person

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