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The use of the personal "a"

 

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Old April 22, 2011, 06:35 PM
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laepelba laepelba is offline
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Question The use of the personal "a"

I'm reading an article that uses the following sample sentence and attached note:
Busco un secretario que sepa francés.
(no personal a: it's not a definite person)

Huh? I thought that any reference to a person or to a personal pet required a personal "a" except for with certain verbs like "tener". ??

So is my understanding wrong? Or is the author of the article wrong? Or is there an exception somewhere that I missed...?

Thank you!
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Last edited by laepelba; April 22, 2011 at 06:39 PM.
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  #2  
Old April 22, 2011, 09:17 PM
Luna Azul Luna Azul is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by laepelba View Post
I'm reading an article that uses the following sample sentence and attached note:
Busco un secretario que sepa francés.
(no personal a: it's not a definite person)
Huh? I thought that any reference to a person or to a personal pet required a personal "a" except for with certain verbs like "tener". ??

So is my understanding wrong? Or is the author of the article wrong? Or is there an exception somewhere that I missed...?

Thank you!
It is true that the personal "a" is used when referring to a person. But that's not always the case. It's only used when the direct object is someone you already know, someone in particular, or a pet, for that matter. It's not used if the direct object is an indefinite person.

In your examples the subject is looking for a person but that person is not someone he knows but "anybody" who can work as a secretary.

We say "Necesito un médico" but we don't say "necesito a un médico" because I'm talking about any doctor, not a specific one.

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Old April 22, 2011, 09:44 PM
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wrholt wrholt is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by laepelba View Post
I'm reading an article that uses the following sample sentence and attached note:
Busco un secretario que sepa francés.
(no personal a: it's not a definite person)
Huh? I thought that any reference to a person or to a personal pet required a personal "a" except for with certain verbs like "tener". ??

So is my understanding wrong? Or is the author of the article wrong? Or is there an exception somewhere that I missed...?

Thank you!
The author is right. Examples that use "buscar" as the main verb are often used to demonstrate how both the choice of indicative/subjunctive and the choice of using/not using personal a affect the sense of reality/certainty of existence or unreality/uncertainty of existence of a direct object.

Compare your sentence (a) with a slightly different sentence (b):

a. Busco un secretario que sepa francés.
b. Busco a un secretario que sabe francés.

Sentence (b) means, "I'm looking for a secretary that speaks French (I know who he is, I know that he is a secretary, and I know that he speaks French)".

Sentence (a) means "I'm looking for a secretary that speaks French (any person, male or female, that speaks French and that either already is a secretary or who is available to be a secretary, and I don't know whether such a person exists".

I'm a little uncertain about what happens if you try to simplify these sentences: perhaps a native speaker will advise us about:

c. Busco un secretario.
d. Busco a un secretario.

I think that (c) means "I'm looking for a secretary (anyone, male or female, who happens to be a secretary or who I can hire to work as a secretary; I don't know whether such a person exists)".

And (d) means "I'm looking for a secretary (I know who he is, and I know that he is a secretary)".

Using personal a in b and d asserts the existence, identifiability, and definiteness of the direct object, while not using personal a in a and c asserts the uncertainty of existence, lack of identiability, and indefiniteness of the direct object.
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Old April 22, 2011, 09:47 PM
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laepelba laepelba is offline
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Okay - this is coming together for me quite nicely. Thank you!!
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Old April 22, 2011, 10:02 PM
Luna Azul Luna Azul is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wrholt View Post

I'm a little uncertain about what happens if you try to simplify these sentences: perhaps a native speaker will advise us about:

c. Busco un secretario.
d. Busco a un secretario.

I think that (c) means "I'm looking for a secretary (anyone, male or female, who happens to be a secretary or who I can hire to work as a secretary; I don't know whether such a person exists)".

And (d) means "I'm looking for a secretary (I know who he is, and I know that he is a secretary)".
You got it right, wrholt . No need to add anything.
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