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The Web of Language
Dennis Baron's go-to site for language and technology in the news

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  • It’s National Grammar Day. I can’t even, and you shouldn’t either.

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Comments

valentynak2004@yahoo.com Mar 6, 2020 9:47 am

Dear Mr. Baron,

Thank you ever so much for your informative and inspiring website. As a person who is seriously in love with the English language, maybe you could comment on the tendency to use the indefinite article before names of drinks: The woman in a grey suit drinking a coffee by the window is my sister. Not a native speaker, I cannot get the logic of this sentence. For some reason the article seems to be out of place here. I am not a purist, and I readily accept A in "I am looking forward to drinking a coffee/ I drink a coffee first thing in the morning/ Drinking a coffee cad do the job" but I cannot think of the logic behind "My friend is drinking a coffee in the cafe across the street at the moment" which appears in a textbook. Why  should I  use the indefinite article before coffee?

I do not mind being corrected as long as I find out what is correct.

Thank you in advance.

Reply to valentynak2004@yahoo.com at 9:47 am
debaron@illinois.edu valentynak2004@yahoo.comMar 6, 2020 12:34 pm

Dear Mr. Baron,

Thank you ever so much for your informative and inspiring website. As a person who is seriously in love with the English language, maybe you could comment on the tendency to use the indefinite article before names of drinks: The woman in a grey suit drinking a coffee by the window is my sister. Not a native speaker, I cannot get the logic of this sentence. For some reason the article seems to be out of place here. I am not a purist, and I readily accept A in "I am looking forward to drinking a coffee/ I drink a coffee first thing in the morning/ Drinking a coffee cad do the job" but I cannot think of the logic behind "My friend is drinking a coffee in the cafe across the street at the moment" which appears in a textbook. Why  should I  use the indefinite article before coffee?

I do not mind being corrected as long as I find out what is correct.

Thank you in advance.

Although the absence of an article is unremarkable, it is also common to use an indefinite article in such contexts. A coffee = a cup of coffee. OTOH, "let's have *the* coffee" suggests that the topic of coffee has already been broached. And people say "let's get a coffee" to mean let's get coffee, tea, hot chocolate, a soft drink, maybe even a snack. Usage is flexible. We should be, too.

Reply to debaron@illinois.edu at 12:34 pm