"A" adds value
Many don't use 'a' before using certain words like few, little which will completely change the meaning of the sentence This is that time of the...
Many don't use 'a' before using certain words like few, little which will completely change the meaning of the sentence This is that time of the year when schools and colleges bombard you with advertisements urging you to apply soon because 'few' seats are available. The question is, why should you apply at all if 'few' seats are available! It is because the advertiser doesn't know the difference between 'few' and 'a few'. 'Few' means not many, hardly any, and almost none. It thus has a negative meaning. For example, "I have few friends in America" means I have no friends in that country. In contrast, 'a few' means some, and therefore has a positive sense. For example, "I have a few relatives in America" means that I have some, a significant number of relatives in that country. So, you should invite applications only when you have 'a few seats' and not when you have 'few' seats. 'Little' and 'a little' too are often misused. 'Little' means insignificant, almost nil and therefore is a negative word. For example, "I know little about America" means I know nothing about it. 'A little', on the other hand, means significant, substantial. "I know a little about America" means I have enough idea about it. In general, 'few/little' have a negative sense while 'a few/a little' have a positive meaning. The difference between these commonly confused words, however, is that while 'few/a few' is used for numbers (countable nouns), 'little/a little' refers to quantity (uncountable nouns). While on the topic of educational institutions and their advertisements, a private university in our state has been regularly advertising on radio its hi-tech labs, library, hostel, sports and "much more facilities". If they had spent a fraction of their time and money on the text of the advertisement, they would have corrected it as "many more facilities" since 'facilities' is a countable noun. Another well-known English coaching institute gives its address as "besides �theatre and opposite to �", thus damaging its credibility not once but twice within one sentence! 'Besides' is different from and has no relation to 'beside'. 'Beside' means 'next to', 'by the side of' and indicates position. 'Besides', on the other hand, means 'in addition to', 'moreover' and 'apart from'. For example, "Besides being too far, the institute is quite expensive". When 'opposite' is used to indicate location, using 'to' is unnecessary, and wrong, because 'opposite' itself is a position. So, the address of the English institute should be given as "Beside �theatre and opposite." "No Parking before the gate" is a notice that we see often but follow rarely. I sometimes wonder whether we ignore the instruction because it doesn't convey correctly what it intends to. In most Indian languages the same word is used to mean both 'before' and 'in front of'. But in English, the two words are used in different contexts. 'Before' indicates time and sequence. For example, "Reach the examination centre before 10 am" or "He left home before me". The opposite of 'before', therefore, is 'after'. 'In front of' specifies a place and a position, the opposite of which is 'behind'. For example, in a sentence like "Before the programme started, they put a few empty chairs in front of the dais", 'before' indicates time and 'in front of' shows position. Some hotels while requesting the customers not to park their vehicles 'before the gate', inform them that parking space is available at the 'backside'. 'Backside' has another, less respectable, meaning, far removed from what is intended in the notice. Moreover, there is no need to add 'side' to 'back' because 'back', like 'opposite', is itself a side. So, the correct notice should read, "Please do not park your vehicles in front of the gate. Please park them behind the building". Or simply "No parking in front of the gate. Parking available at the back". Will more people follow the instructions if they are phrased properly? Well, that's anybody's guess.