Sunday, December 2, 2007

I Have Free Time

While teaching an English class for adults, I heard one of my students say, "When I have a free time, I like to watch movies." I'd like to concentrate on "when I have a free time." That class was not the first time I heard this error. In fact, I hear it fairly frequently.

The correct expression does not use the article "a:" "when I have free time." As an article, "a" is used if you're talking about one thing among many: "a bag," "a watch," "a movie," "a song." In all four examples, the person is talking about a particular bag, watch, movie, or song. We know that there are many varieties of these things. Consider this dialogue:

Prixie: I think I want to watch a movie today (there are many movies, but I'm only interested in one).
Chris: Ok, what movie?
Prixie: How about "Enchanted?"
Chris: Is that supposed to be a good movie (there are many good movies, is this one of them)?

Following the proper use of the article "a," we can see that "a free time" is incorrect. Free time, after all, does not come in varieties. When we say "free time," we always mean "time to do something other than work," or "time to do something fun." Even if you spend your free time doing a variety of activities, there is still just one free time.

Enjoy your free time today.

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