[Ads-l] Articles and letters of the alphabet

Barretts Mail mail.barretts at GMAIL.COM
Fri Feb 12 12:37:44 EST 2021

Generally, it seems that articles are optional for single letters of the alphabet:

1. This is a “B.”
2. This is “B.”

Number 1 seems to be talking about the letter, and number 2 seems to be pedagogical. For number 2, then, perhaps the article is skipped because “B” is treated as a proper noun.

As for spelling:

3. It starts/ends with a “B.”
4. It starts/ends with “B.”

These seem nearly equivalent, but 3 feels more prescriptively correct.

For me, at least, the article is obligatory when describing letters in other word positions:

5. “Build” has an “B” in it.
??6. “Build” has “B” in it.

4 and 6 seem inconsistent. Is there a way to explain this?

Benjamin Barrett (he/his/him)
Formerly of Seattle, WA
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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