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    #1

    in a/the post office

    Hello, everybody.
    I've got some problems. There is a sentence in 'Essential Grammar in Use' which confuses me - 'Stamps is sold in a post office'. Why is there 'a'? I think that there should be 'the' because we use 'post office' here in a general way. Which is right? Thanks in advance.

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    #2

    Re: in a/the post office

    You could use either:

    Stamps is are sold in a/the post office.

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    #3

    Re: in a/the post office

    Quote Originally Posted by Collapse View Post
    Hello, everybody.
    I've got some problems. There is a sentence in 'Essential Grammar in Use' which confuses me - 'Stamps is sold in a post office'. Why is there 'a'? I think that there should be 'the' because we use 'post office' here in a general way. Which is right? Thanks in advance.
    Reference Tdol's response. But also, your statement about use of "the" for "general" reference is not correct. Rather, we use "a" for general reference and "the" for specific reference.

  1. 5jj's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: in a/the post office

    Quote Originally Posted by billmcd View Post
    Reference Tdol's response. But also, your statement about use of "the" for "general" reference is not correct. Rather, we use "a" for general reference and "the" for specific reference.
    Not always, at least in BrE, with certain words.

    "I am going to the pub/bank/post office/theatre" can mean "I am going out for a drink/a stamp/some cash/to see a play". We do not necessarily have a specific pub/bank/post office/theatre in mind.

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    #5

    Re: in a/the post office

    Quote Originally Posted by billmcd View Post
    Reference Tdol's response. But also, your statement about use of "the" for "general" reference is not correct. Rather, we use "a" for general reference and "the" for specific reference.
    In AnE, do you say go to the bank with a general reference? We do in BrE.

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    #6

    Re: in a/the post office

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    In AnE, do you say go to the bank with a general reference? We do in BrE.
    Here are some "snapshots" from a few English reference sources and I'm sure you understand these general rules and, of course, their exceptions. This is where I was coming from in response to Collapse's post.

    You use the when you know that the listener knows or can work out what particular person/thing you are talking about.
    A and an are the indefinite articles. They refer to something not specifically known to the person you are communicating with.
    A: you use this when you’re not necessarily referring to a specific thing
    The: you’re talking about a definite item, which is why the is called a definite article.

    And finally (I hope) with regard to Collapse's original post ('Stamps is are sold in a post office'.), given a choice between the use of "a" or "the", I would use "a" and I suspect that most/all of my colleagues would as well. I will attempt to verify that claim and report in the future.

  2. 5jj's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: in a/the post office

    Quote Originally Posted by billmcd View Post
    And finally (I hope) with regard to Collapse's original post ('Stamps is are sold in a post office'.), given a choice between the use of "a" or "the", I would use "a" and I suspect that most/all of my colleagues would as well. I will attempt to verify that claim and report in the future.
    I am fairly sure that if I were to utter that sentence, I would say, "Stamps are sold at the post office". Actually, as I mght be explaining life in England to a guest who came from a country where you buy stamps at a tobacconist's, I would probably say, "You buy stamps at the post office" (rather than using the passive - but that's irrelevant). I might use 'a' but I think I'd be more likely to use 'the'.

    I have just tried the British National Corpus:
    at a post office - 8
    at the post office - 54

    I did not go through all 54 examples of 'at the', but I read quite a few. Whilst some of them were clearly for a previously-mentioned post office, quite a few weren't. In British English, it would seem, most people buy stamps at the post office.
    Last edited by 5jj; 13-Aug-2011 at 18:58. Reason: information added

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    #8

    Re: in a/the post office

    As another BrE speaker, I would go for the definite article there too, so it's likely to be a difference between the variants.

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