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.