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Imagine yourself walking in the woods with children. One child is saying, "there is a big hole in that tree's trunk." You answer, "perhaps a/some bird lives in there."

Would you use a or some? Please, elaborate.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

I would probably use a in this sentence, but you could use either.

One of the meanings of some is:

some 2 used to refer to someone or something that is unknown or unspecified : she married some newspaper magnate twice her age | there must be some mistake | he's in some kind of trouble.

So to refer to "some bird" living in a tree trunk simply means it is an unknown or unspecified bird, if it does in fact exist. But the indefinite article accomplishes the same task, and does so with a single letter, so I would prefer it in this case.

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If someone said to me, "Some bird lives there", I think I'd be more likely to interpret it with the slang meaning of "bird" ("woman")... I suspect this is a British thing. – psmears Mar 20 '11 at 13:29
@psmears - Is it like "this bird has flown" in "Norwegian wood" by the Beatles? – brilliant Mar 20 '11 at 14:16
@psmears: You know a lot of women who live in holes in trees, do you? :) Anyway, you're right that "bird" is a British slang synonym for woman. @brilliant: Yes, John Lennon was making a pun on the dual meanings of "bird" in that song. – Robusto Mar 20 '11 at 14:22
@Robusto: What company I keep is my own business :-P (But my point is that the association is so strong that, even in that context, if a native speaker said "some bird lives there" then this would indeed be the sort of picture that came to mind... Saying "a bird" avoids this issue.) – psmears Mar 20 '11 at 14:48
@psmears: Well, if I were to see an underage girl like the one in your picture, I doubt I would refer to her by any term that might have sexual connotations. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've always understood "bird" to be used the way Americans would use "chick" — as descrbing someone who might possibly be the target of sexual interest. – Robusto Mar 20 '11 at 19:02

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