in a hurry and in haste

Hi, Fujibei,

Even if both nouns (hurry and haste) are abstract, "hurry" (just like "rush" in the phrase "in a rush") takes the article because it refers to a single instance of that situation. The article is used precisely to denote that.

Instead, "haste" does not seem to accept that kind of division into moments of haste but is used to refer to that situation as a whole.

I'm sure there are other cases like this in the language.

Gustavo, Contributor posted:

Even if both nouns (hurry and haste) are abstract, "hurry" (just like "rush" in the phrase "in a rush") takes the article because it refers to a single instance of that situation. The article is used precisely to denote that.

Instead, "haste" does not seem to accept that kind of division into moments of haste but is used to refer to that situation as a whole.

Nice explanation, Gustavo.

Gustavo, Contributor posted:
I'm sure there are other cases like this in the language.

Yes. Another example that comes to my mind is "in a bind" versus "in difficulty." The two phrases are basically interchangeable, but the one has a countable, discrete meaning and the other an abstract, holistic meaning.

  • He found himself in difficulty when his car wouldn't start.
  • He found himself in a bind when his car wouldn't start.

Fujibei,

First, let me thank you for your question.  Second, let me suggest that, even though featuring the focus of your question in the subject heading of the thread is very helpful, it would also be nice if you would also include the phrases in the body of your post.

I like all of the examples that Gustavo and David have suggested, but their explanations all seem to be missing something.

First, I find the phrase "in haste" to be borderline archaic.  I'm trying to think whether I've ever heard it outside of the context of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

On the other hand, the phrase "in a hurry" is quite common in modern parlance.  However, despite the presence of a singular indefinite article, which implies that "hurry" is a discrete countable noun, I don't believe I've ever heard it used in the plural:

1: *They are all in hurries.

These sentences all mean pretty much the same thing:

2a: They knew they were in serious trouble.
2b: They knew they were in a big fix.
2c: They knew they were in dire straits.

There is no way to change the pronouns or anything else in these sentences to make "big fixes" make sense in (2b) or "a dire strait" in (2c).

I suggest that these are set idiomatic phrases that defy logical explanation, as do many other aspects of the English language.

I hate this answer, and I will be very happy if someone can show me where I'm wrong.

All the blessings of the new year.

DocV

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