General Question

joshbc's avatar

When do you use "anathema" vs. "an anathema"?

Asked by joshbc (17points) March 20th, 2009

Sometimes you see “an’ before the singular use and sometimes you don’t. Anyone know the grammatical reason why, and if so, can you share some context?

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7 Answers

Harp's avatar

According to this source:

“The word anathema can be used as a regular noun (essentially meaning “a thing cursed”) and a determiner can appear in front of it, “an anathema.” However, it is usually used as what Burchfield calls a “pseudo-adjective” or a predicate nominative (no determiner): “The union was anathema to the middle management class.”

Authority: The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage edited by R.W. Burchfield. Clarendon Press: Oxford, England. 1996. Used with the permission of Oxford University Press.”

augustlan's avatar

So it’s just kind of… willy-nilly?

Harp's avatar

“An anathema” is both awkward and less common, so I use it without the indefinite article. But either usage is defensible.

Jeruba's avatar

Harp’s finding is in full accord with the educated use of it that I have seen in my own reading. I have never seen “an anathema” in stylistically respectable text.

Darwin's avatar

“An anathema” makes one sound as if one is stuttering so one should avoid it at all costs.

I prefer to use it as a predicate nominative because it sounds more elegant. It makes me seem smarter than I actually am.

marinelife's avatar

Thank goodness all you wordies have said so. I too never use it as a noun with an in front of it. It would be anathema to me.

kalloyd's avatar

There is a possibility of the word ananathema, meaning without anathema or revile.
“His objective is to be ananathema to mankind.”, which is not to say “he” wishes to be a positive force of good.

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