The word “a” has several notable features.
It’s classified grammatically as an indefinite article. This means it refers to something of which there can be more than one.
For example, we’d speak of “a” tall building because there are lots of tall buildings. But we’d say Burj Khalifa (in Dubai) is currently “the” world’s tallest building. Here we use the definite article (“the”) since there can be only one tallest.
(Incidentally, I didn’t know which was the world’s tallest building until after pausing to look it up. I stopped following the skyscraper Olympics after the Sears Tower beat out the Empire State Building, many years ago.)
It strikes me as quirky that the word “a” is “an” indefinite article, since in English there are two such articles — “a” and “an”. But we have only one definite article — “the” — so for us “the” is “the” definite article.
“A” also is a prefix meaning “not”. That is, if you’re apolitical, you are not political. If you’re atypical, you are not typical.
One interesting wrinkle is the word “apart”. To be “apart” is to be not part of something. Simple enough.
But lately I’ve been seeing people write “apart” to mean that something or someone is a part of something else: “We’re all apart of one big human family!”
This sets my teeth on edge. (The word usage, I mean, not the sentiment about human oneness which I heartily applaud.) In such a case, “apart” is being used to express the exact opposite of what it actually means!
I’m tempted to say it’s “wrong”. But nowadays the dictionaries, being mostly descriptive rather than prescriptive, probably will vote me down. (To be honest, I haven’t checked.)
(This article is part of my series on words that are #worth1000pictures.)