Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am not a native speaker.

I am doing a exercise "Answer the questions about the pictures" from my Grammar Book and I checked Keys at end of the book:

I saw:

  • In A the man is lying on the floor. In B he is standing on the chair.
  • In A the woman is writing (a letter). In B she is reading a book.
  • In A the man is running. In B he is riding a bicycle.
  • In A the woman is driving (the car). In B the man is driving (the car).

I know, that the article "the" indicates that I am referring to a specific instance.

Could you please explain for me:

Why did author use indefinite and definite articles?

Why did author see a difference between phrases: "a bicycle"(indefinite article) and "the car" (definite article), "the chair"(definite) and "a book" (indefinite)?

share|improve this question

closed as not constructive by J.R., Will Hunting, MετάEd, Mahnax, Matt Эллен Aug 29 '12 at 8:02

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
Hard to tell without seeing the pictures. Also, you could change every one of those "the's" to "a", and all the "a's" to "the," and it would all still read just fine, with only slight shifts in the nuance of the meaning. You could make other minor adjustments, also: "writing her letter", "riding that bicycle". –  J.R. Aug 29 '12 at 0:13
    
@WillHunting, for example, I have a question: "What do you see on a picture?"As answer, I must fill empty lines. Also, at end of the book I have correct answers. These answers I wrote in this question. –  user471011 Aug 29 '12 at 0:32
    
First off you cannot simply use whatever, there is a right and a wrong, your teacher will (or at least should) correct you if you if you use the wrong one. –  Born2Smile Aug 29 '12 at 22:08
    
Every item or person should generally be introduced before it can be spoken of in the definite. The book is in the indefinite, because it has not been introduced, if someone said: "The woman is reading the book" people would ask: "What book?" because the sentence assumes (by using definitive) that the the listener knows of the book in question. People might of course still ask "What book?" if you use indefinite, but out of curiosity, not out of misunderstanding. The same explanation goes for letter –  Born2Smile Aug 29 '12 at 22:21
    
the car is introduced in the parenthesis of the first sentence as: the car the woman is driving in the picture. The parentheses themselves meaning "as is evident". Without parentheses you would have to write: "In A the woman is driving a car. In B the man is driving the car", if the car is the same in both A and B. If the cars are different you would have to use "a car" for both A and B, because neither car had been introduced. –  Born2Smile Aug 29 '12 at 22:39
show 3 more comments

1 Answer 1

up vote 1 down vote accepted

It's actually quite hard to explain why OP's second sentence, for example, doesn't say...

In A a woman is writing (the letter). In B she is reading the book.

All I can suggest is it's the woman because it's the same woman in two different pictures, so we tend to apply the definite article because it's a specific woman. It's probably trivial to suggest one would avoid my version with two consecutive a's because it's tricky to articulate, but who knows?

By the same token, the letter and the book are almost "incidental" - they each only appear once, and they could be any letter/book, so we're happy with the indefinite article. Again, it may be trivial to suggest we like to "ring the changes", after having previously used the definite article.

In summary, I think the default for all such contexts is to use the indefinite article "a/an" for everything except the primary focus of the statement. But there's no rule saying I couldn't have ended that last sentence with "...of a statement".

share|improve this answer
    
This is a good question and difficult to explain. One thought that comes to mind is that some nouns are more substantial and unique, therefore merit a definite article ('the'). The man and the woman meet this because they are the subjects in your sentences and the man and the woman are the same in each picture (I assume). The floor is likely the only one in the picture, few rooms have more than one. I must assume from the answer key that there is only one chair in the room, though even so it wouldn't be incorrect to say 'a chair' wih just one chair in the picture. –  Mike Aug 29 '12 at 1:32
add comment

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.