A few days ago, I saw an Onion Tech Trends video: HP Offers ‘That Cloud Thing Everyone Is Talking About.

The whole video is funny, but what really cracked me up was when the HP spokesman says, at 1:32, We have App.

Evidently, many other people found it funny too—the top comment on the YouTube video makes a reference to that statement, and a quick search I did on Google showed me that this particular line was tweeted and written about quite a bit when the video was launched.

What I find interesting is how the line We have App derives its humor value almost entirely from the lack of an article.

The use of articles in English is very complicated. The a/an issue is straightforward, barring a few special cases, but choosing where to use a[an]/the/(nothing) can get pretty tricky. Many non-native speakers with an otherwise good command of English betray their non-nativity by the way they use (or don’t use) articles. When I proof-read text written by others, I often find almost perfect English, except for the occasional misplaced article. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this is one of the most difficult aspects of the English language to gain a mastery of, especially for speakers of those languages that don’t use articles the way English does.

Most grammar books try to lay down a few (or even many) rules about this, but the subtle nuances that can be introduced by the choice of article are often difficult to explain to non-native speakers. In general, however, article choice is not a very critical aspect of the language, and it usually just makes you sound a bit ‘funny’, usually without impeding communication.

And this is precisely what happens in the video above. The problem here is not non-nativity, but the fact that the HP Spokesperson is shown to have no idea whatsoever about what he’s speaking, including the meaning of the word App. He seems to think that App is some kind of thing in itself, such as Cloud Storage or Creativity. If he had said something like ‘We have Apps’ or even ‘We have an App’, it won’t have been half as funny. I find it very fascinating how the omission of one article (or the use of singular App instead of plural Apps) creates such a profound impact on the semantics and pragmatics of the sentence.