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E-mail or an e-mail?

Posted by Barney on November 30, 2000

In Reply to: E-mail or an e-mail? posted by Frankie on November 29, 2000

: : : : Hi!

: : : : I have a question.

: : : : The word 'letter' is countable while 'mail' is uncountable. When I wrote 'I sent e-mail to my mother.' an American friend of mine told me that I should put an article 'an' like 'an e-mail.' But should I?

: : : : Thank you.

: : : : K. Yonehara

: : : E-mail is short for "Electronic Mail".
: : : So it's as if you were to say:
: : : "I sent electronic mail to my mother." ..sounds right.
: : : But with the article you would have to say:
: : : "I sent an electronic letter to my mother."
: : : "Electronic" is just an adjective.
: : : Same rules apply if you were to change the adjective to "overnight"
: : : "I sent overnight mail to my mother." Or "I sent an overnight letter/package to my mother."
: : : HOWEVER: The word "E-mail" has become an accepted euphemism for the word "letter" even though it technically means Mail". So, you're right grammatically but your friend is right in common usage.

: : Surely e-mail implies an indeterminate number of electronic messages whereas 'an email' implies just one such message. Hence I can receive 'e-mail' (one or more messages) or I can receive an 'e-mail' message. Well, that's how I understand it this morning in SW1; could get grammatically technical but my pedantic libido is low.

: I like that.
: An e-mail = one letter.
: E-mail = Insinuates plurality.
: Sounds good to me.

An e-mail is an e-mail and a letter is a letter: there is no equivalence between letter and e-mail other than the fact that each, hopefully, contains information.