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I've read the following sentence in a book:

They had actually spent a mere ten days together.


I do understand the meaning, but I don't understand the expression "a mere ten days".

To me, "mere" is a synonym for "only" or "just".

But I can't say the following, or can I?

They had actually spent a only ten days together.

They had actually spent a just ten days together.


Can I also say:

They had actually spent merely ten days together. ?


Thank you in advance!

Veit

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file tile 16I don't understand the expression "a mere ten days".

a [period/series] of [only / no more than ] ten days

This sort of expression is meant to minimize the importance of the time period. Here it seems to me that there is a subtle claim that ten days was not enough to form much of a bond.

CJ

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file tile 16I do understand the meaning, but I don't understand the expression "a mere ten days".

There is a lengthy discussion about that here: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/252173/indefinite-articles-used-with-plural-nouns-it-was-an-amazing-two-days .

The upshot seems to be that nobody knows why we can use "a" that way, at least nobody posting where we can see them. English has acquired many little quirks over the centuries, and they developed without the benefit of scholarly guidance or documentation. Our relatively modern standard schoolboy grammar certainly can't handle this one.

file tile 16To me, "mere" is a synonym for "only" or "just". But I can't say the following, or can I?They had actually spent a only ten days together.They had actually spent a just ten days together.

Right, you can't say those.

file tile 16Can I also say:They had actually spent merely ten days together. ?

Yes, but the tone at least is different.

 CalifJim's reply was promoted to an answer.