an iron v some iron

The students were practicing uncountable and countable nouns, and the grammar practice page had the sentence: ‘Hello, Reception. Do you have an / some iron I can use?’. One student chose ‘some’. If it was a test, I would have to mark him wrong. In class, though, I can find out why he chose that. I asked ‘What are going to do with some iron?’. He said ‘I’m a scientist. I’m going to make a science experiment.’ All right, then. I said ‘Where are you, that you are calling Reception?’. He said ‘I’m in a big shop. There’s a desk I can ask at.’ I said ‘Is that Reception, or is that the Information Desk?’. He said ‘Oh’. I asked ‘And are you going to buy the iron first, before you use it?’. He said ‘Oh’. ‘Where else has Reception?’. (a moment’s thought) ‘A hotel.’  ‘And what do you want?’. ‘An iron.’ ‘And what are you going to do with it?’. ‘Iron my clothes.’. So without saying that his original answer was ‘wrong’, I was able to get him to the ‘right’ answer.

I quickly searched for ‘image iron’ and Google obligingly produced pictures of chunks of the metal and the household implement. Another student semi-randomly said ‘Iron Man’. I quickly thought, then said ‘Imagine – Tony Stark has just returned to his hotel after battling the bad guys. Part of his suit is missing. He rings Reception and says “Hello, Reception. Do you have some iron I can use?” ’. So maybe, in that specific context, the first student’s first answer could actually be right.

(And please don’t say that Tony Stark wouldn’t be staying in a hotel.)

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