1. Definite and indefinite article uses of “a” and “the”
A/an: unknown, any, general, not specific
The: known, specific
The most important thing to consider when using “a” and “the” is to look at the context (the situation) in which the article is needed. Are the specific details of the subject (the situation) known, or unknown?
A and an: These two are called indefinite articles. Just as it sounds, the word indefinite here means undefined or not specific, and also unknown. We use “a/an” when we know what the general subject of a sentence or question is, but do not know anything specific (or definite) about it. Think of it like this: “a” is for “any.” Here are some examples:
I am thinking about seeing a movie, but I don’t know which one. So I ask my wife:
“Would you like to see a movie tonight?” When I am asking her, I don’t know what movie I want to see specifically. I just want to see a movie, any movie. Remember, a, is for any.
“Could you please get me an apple at the grocery store?”
In this case, I am communicating that any apple is okay. It does not need to be any particular, or specific, type of apple.
Here’s another one:
“Please hand me a pair of scissors.”
Again, in this case, we are saying that any pair of scissors will do. It does not need to be a particular pair of scissors.
Now, let’s take a look at “the.”
“The” gets used in the opposite case of “a/an.”
“The” is used to communicate things specifically, or in particular. Let’s take a look at the same examples as above, but this time, we’ll use “the” instead of “a/an.”
I want to see the new Star Wars movie tonight. I do know which movie I want to see and my wife also knows that I want to see it too. So I say to her:
“Would you like to see the movie tonight?” Here, I use “the” because she and I both know what movie I am referring to specifically. We both know what it is. So when we use “the,” the subject of the sentence is always known.
Here’s the next example:
She’s thinking about eating at her favorite restaurant Monday night, because we always eat at her favorite restaurant Monday night. So she asks me:
“Andrew, do you want to go to the restaurant tonight?” When she asks me, she does know which restaurant she wants to go to, as do I. Remember, when using “the,” we always know the specific details in the situation. All of the elements are known. This is because we use “the” to communicate about specific things that are known.
1. Context: My wife and I have agreed on which car to buy. I say to her:
“Honey, when should we go to purchase a / the ATHE car?”
2. Context: My coworker wants to have a drink with me after work, but isn’t sure where to go.
“Hey Andrew, want to go to a / the ATHE pub after work and have a drink?”
3. Context: My boss needs to write something down quickly but he can’t find a pen.
“Could you quickly hand me a / the athe pen, I need to write something down right now.”
4. Context: I am at my friend’s house. He isn’t sure what type of beer he has in his refrigerator. He asks me:
“Can I get you a / the athe beer?”
5. Context: A man and a woman are on a blind date. After dinner, they decided to have coffee, but they don’t know the neighborhood very well. He asks her:
“Should we go to a / the athe coffee shop here?
6. Context: A new restaurant has opened down the street from my office. My coworker and I just walked past it. I ask him:
“Hey, do you want to go to a / the athe new restaurant after work tonight?”
7. Context: There are several brand new cell phones that came out this month. I want to buy one. I call my wife and say:
“Honey, I think I’ll go out and buy a / the athe new cell phone this weekend.
8. Context: My wife’s favorite band is playing in-person at the end of the month. She tells me:
“Please buy a / the athe concert ticket for me before you leave for your hike.”
9. Context: The library has a book I have wanted to read for a long time; it just arrived.
“I am going to the library to check-out a / the athe book that finally came in.
10. Context: My friend finally sent me a picture he took of me in college. I have been waiting a long time to see it.
“Finally! A / the athe picture has arrived at last!