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)