Some? One? A?

My makeup made a wow-effect with my girlfriends (who knew I had been practicing makeup at home but never had a chance to see me in one).

After freelancing in England for couple of months and Paris for one year, he came to New York in 2009.

Last night I went to see some photo exhibition on the East Side of Manhattan.

These sentences sound just slightly off, don’t they? Their meaning is clear enough, but something about them doesn’t quite sound like a native speaker. The problem stems from their use of indefinite nouns, and the articles, adjectives or pronouns that go with them.

Let’s review. An indefinite noun is one that is not specific — in these cases, makeup (no particular makeup),  year (what year?) and photo exhibition (which one?). The articles article (Sept. 25, 2012) explains when to use the definite article, the,  and the indefinite ones, a and an, or none at all. But indefinite nouns also need to work with pronouns and adjectives, and that’s where things get complicated.

In the first sentence — where the girlfriends knew I had been practicing makeup at home but never had a chance to see me in one —  the problem is one.  Here the point is not just whether the noun is definite or indefinite, but also whether it’s countable or uncountable. Can you count makeup? No. Makeup is a collective noun that includes foundation, lipstick, mascara, etc.  You can’t count one makeup, two makeups, three makeups. You could use some, as in never had a chance to see me in some. But some usually indicates a positive context; for negative, any is better. So: the girlfriends never had a chance to see me in any. (In such  cases, some and any function as pronouns.)

In After freelancing in England for couple of months and Paris for one year . . . one is a little too specific — especially after a vague phrase like a couple of months. Instead, most Americans would say for a year.

In some photo exhibition on the East Side of Manhattan, you want the indefinite article a rather than some.  With a singular noun,  some implies vagueness. Some photo exhibition suggests you don’t remember what the exhibition was, who the photographer was or where the gallery was, and you don’t care. It was just some exhibition.


I would like to set up some system to connect readers and writers.

A system would be better. Again, some system sounds as if the writer has no idea what that system might be.

When I start up some project . . .  Also vague. Instead, start up a project. Better yet, start a project.

I  should gather comments from the public through a blog or some people that I know. In this case, some adds nothing and you can drop it completely: through a blog or people I know. Notice that the writer didn’t say I should gather some comments . . .  The comments are indefinite; the people are indefinite, and some is implied. So neither clause needs it.

One more example:

Michael Wolf, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities Economics Group, said increasing mortgage rates have slowed down some demands in the market.

Unless some demands mean some specific ones and not others , you don’t need it. Just demands.





  1. Final exam | English for JournalistsEnglish for Journalists - May 16, 2014

    […] year” is a little too precise; it’s not the way Americans speak or write. (Some? One? A?) […]