and zero articles
At or in school
Beginning and ending letters
Berger from the Czech Republic asks about using the
indefinite article and the appropriate way to word a letter:
I'm somehow confused whether I should have used the indefinite article
in this sentence:
you must ask to get a permission'. Though it is uncountable, I would
like to give here an indefinite article, so which version is correct?
Furthermore, I'm not sure whether I should use at or in
High School, and finally I would like to ask you about the first
line I have written in this letter. Which one is the most appropriate
when I do not know whether I'm writing to a man or to a woman? 'Dear
Sirs' or 'Dear Sir or Madam': which one would you recommend?
article plus uncountable noun, Zdenek, is normally used for abstract
qualities such as permission, honesty, greed, morality, philosophy:
'Philosophy and psychology are rarely studied in [or at] school, though
they are popular subjects at university.'
brings me on to your next question, whether to use at or in
with school. They appear to me to be interchangeable in
most of the examples that I can think of:
'She was at [or in] school
when the accident happened.'
However, when the school in question
is named, at seems more likely, thus:
'At Highfield Manor, discipline
was rarely enforced and outrageous behaviour was tolerated.
(Note the use of zero article with abstract nouns!)
question about how to begin and end letters is an important one.
In a formal letter, beginning with Dear Sir(s) or Dear
Sir or Madam are equally acceptable, but make sure you match
these with Yours faithfully at the end.
sincerely is used in less formal letters when the name of your
correspondent is known, thus: Dear Zdenek or Dear Mr Berger
would end with Yours sincerely. If you know your correspondent
very well, you might begin with Dear Zdenek and end with
either Yours or Best wishes.