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  1. #1

    'a' or 'the'

    I hope someone will help me.
    Thank you very much in advance.
    Are there any differences between the following two sentences?
    1) This is a book I bought in England.
    2) This is the book I bought in England.
    I have been an English teacher for more than two decades.
    I have taught my students when you use No.1 sentence,
    it means you bought some or many books in England and this is one of them.
    And when you use No.2 sentence, it means you bought only one book there.
    However, I have no confidence at all now.
    I will show you other examples.
    3) He is a scientist who invented many things.
    4) He is a scientist who invented the telephone.
    5) He is the scientist who invented the telephone.
    Is No.4 right or wrong?
    There are many scientists who invented some or many things,
    so No.3 means he is one of them.
    On the other hand only one scientist invented the telephone,
    so No.4 should be wrong and No.5 should be right in my way of thinking.
    But it seems there are many native speakers who say sentences like No.4.
    Why does it seem so to me?
    When you begin to say, "he is --- ",
    you are not sure if you are going to add 'who invented the telephone' or not,
    so, you will say, "he is a sciencist" and just when you are saying the word 'scientist', you want to add its explanation.
    That's the way you say, "he is a scientist who invented the telephone."
    Am I wrong?

  2. #2

    Re: 'a' or 'the'

    You are right about 1&2,
    but about 4&5,as far as THE refer to sth that there is only one of in the particular context 5 seems and sounds more familier.

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    #3

    Re: 'a' or 'the'

    4 is unlikely but possible- if you were talking about many people you could say it, but the natural form would be the definite article. 4 is like saying 'he is a scientist and he invented the phone'- it's not defining in the same way.

  3. #4

    Re: 'a' or 'the'

    Thank you very much, Tina_n and tdol.

    But what does 'possible' mean?
    Does it mean there is a possibility that you would say, “He is a scientist who invented the telephone,” just when you want to say, “He is a scientist and he invented the telephone.”
    In that case, should a comma be put before the word ‘who’? “He is a scientist, who invented the telephone.” when you write the sentence?

    When you use the definite article, are you already planning to define the word soon after you have menthioned the word?

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    #5

    Re: 'a' or 'the'

    It's not a very convincing sentence, because inventing something like the telephone is almost certain to be a definining characteristic. I'd say there is a possibility of using the indefinite article and it would be similar to me to using 'and'. However, I think it's more a question of a possibility rather than a particularly realistic sentence.

  4. #6

    Re: 'a' or 'the'

    Thank you very much again, tdol.

    I am sorry to have annoyed you a bit.
    There is always a question of possibility in everything, isn't there?

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    #7

    Re: 'a' or 'the'

    You didn't annoy me at all- the more you look at sentences, the more complex things can get, and it's from such things that learning takes place.

  5. Casiopea's Avatar

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    #8

    Re: 'a' or 'the'

    Quote Originally Posted by Sstupid
    Are there any differences between the following two sentences?
    1) This is a book I bought in England.
    2) This is the book I bought in England.
    [1] "a book": I haven't mentioned this book to you before.
    <non-specific; not known to the listener/reader>

    This is a book I bought in England.
    => I haven't mentioned or shown it to you before. It's new knowledge.

    Consider:
    Max: Here's a book I want you to have. <It's news to "you">
    Max: Here's the book I want you to have. <It's not news to "you">

    Compare:
    Max: Here's the book I was telling you about. <"you" know>
    Max: ?Here's a book I was telling you about. <semantically awkward>
    Max: Here's a book (i.e., one of the books) I was telling you about. <"you" know>

    [2] "the book": I have mentioned this book to you before.
    <specific; known to both the speaker and the listener/reader>

    [u]This is the book I bought in England.
    => I have mentioned or shown it to you before. "you" know about it; i.e., that I bought it or was going to buy it. It's not news to you.

    Consider:
    Max: Here's the book you wanted. <"you" know about it>
    Cf. Here's a book you might want. <"you" don't know about it>

    Quote Originally Posted by Ss
    4) He is a scientist who invented the telephone.
    5) He is the scientist who invented the telephone.
    Try,

    [4a] He is a scientist and he invented the telephone.

    [4b] He is a scientist(,) who invented the telephone.
    Meaning: He is just a scientist who invented the telephone.

    In other words, "one of many scientists" means, [a] he belongs to the profession Scientist, not [b] "he is one of many scientist who invented the telephone."

    [b] He is a scientist who invented the telephone. <awkward>
    [a] He is a scientist(,) who invented the telephone.

    If ambiguity, use a comma.

    Compare:
    He is a man who lives down the road. <He's one of many Men>
    He is the man who lives down the road. <He's known to us>

    [5] He is the scientist who invented the telephone.

    Note, "the" is specific, so it needs to be defined. "who invented the telephone" fills in the specifics.

  6. #9

    Re: 'a' or 'the'

    Thank you very much for another explanation about 'a' or 'the', Casiopea.

    I understand you are saying,
    This is a book I bought in England. doesn't always mean 'I bought some or many books there.'
    This is a book I bought in England. doesn't always mean 'I bought only one book there.'

    He is a man who lives down the road. <He's one of many Men>
    He is the man who lives down the road. <He's known to us>
    These two sentences taught me a lot.
    He is the man who lives down the road. doesn't mean 'He is the only man living down the road', does it?

    Thank you very much, Casiopea.
    It seems that some clouds are gone, and I can see the clear sky.

  7. Casiopea's Avatar

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    #10

    Re: 'a' or 'the'

    You're welcome. We're happy to help.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sstupid
    He is the man who lives down the road doesn't mean, he is "the only man" living down the road, does it?
    You've got it. "the" is specific, so it expresses information known to both/all speech participants; e.g., the man we saw yesterday;

    Max: Do you see the woman swimming over there? <I see her, you see her>
    Sam: Yes.
    Max: She's my mother-in-law.

    Now consider these (below). They're the same except the first dialogue has specific "the woman" and the second dialogue has non-specific "a woman".

    Max: Do you see the woman swimming over there?
    <I see her, you see her>

    Sam: Yes.
    Max: How dangerous! Someone should tell her that there's no swimming in this river.

    Max: Do you see a woman swimming over there?
    <two meanings:
    [1] I see her, you might not see her.
    [2] She's not the topic. It's swimming in the river that's in focus. Non-specific "a" serves to take "specific" focus off "woman" and leave the topic to swimming in the river.>

    Sam: Yes.
    Max: How dangerous! Someone should tell her that there's no swimming in this river.

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