Questions from readers

19 March 2001
    A reader asked about why the indefinite article was used in a construction of the following type:

In a Paris with four major daily newspapers, competition for readers was intense.

    Why the phrase a Paris? Isn't there only one Paris? The answer is that the writer was imagining multiple Parises, each with a different number of newspapers. That made the proper noun Paris temporarily into a common noun because Paris was no longer unique. Grammarians call this something like the "partitive effect," meaning that it splits Paris into parts. You then have one Paris with four papers, one with two, etc. Recognizing that a is a weakened version of one brings you to a Paris.