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I've had an argument recently whether one should say "I'm going to meet my friends in a park" or "I'm going to meet my friends in the park"? Assume that the other speaker doesn't know what park is being mentioned.

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It depends on whether you already have a particular park in mind or under discussion. I so, then the- park. If not, then _a park. Also, if there's only one park, then the (this is really the same is the first alternative anyway). –  Mitch Nov 27 '12 at 19:16
    
What's the question? Neither one of these responses is going to help your friend meet you at the correct park. –  tylerharms Nov 27 '12 at 19:17
    
I'm afraid I haven't made myself clear enough. Suppose that I'm talking to a person about my plans for the weekend, and I want to tell him, that I'm going to meet my friends in one of the several parks in my city. I do have a particular park in mind, but the person I'm talking to doesn't. –  Khongor Nov 27 '12 at 19:26
    
You should just use the name of the park. The definite article "a" doesn't work because the other person doesn't know the park. The indefinite article "the" also doesn't work because there are several parks and you have chosen a specific one. –  tylerharms Nov 27 '12 at 19:35
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3 Answers

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The first one (a) usually indicates it could be any park or that it's a recurring event and the park varies. With the park, you are specifying a single park (even if the details about the park are unknown without context). If you're assuming the other person doesn't know what park is being mentioned, I would go with "a park". Usually, "the park" means that the other person has an idea of what you're saying, or that they know of only one park. However, I suppose both are correct, although the first one works better in this situation. On a side note, I would change "in" to "at" but that's just me.

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You're correct in saying "usually," because the guidance you're giving for "the" has plenty of exceptions, and isn't always true. I could say, "I'm going to the beach this weekend," even if I don't have a particular beach in mind; or, "We need to go to the store," even if we're staying in a hotel in a strange town, and don't even know what stores are in town; or "Let's go to the movies tomorrow," even if we're not yet sure what movie we'll see, or which cinema we'll drive to. Usually? Sure, I'll accept that. But there are enough exceptions that it's not a definitive reason to win an argument. –  J.R. Nov 28 '12 at 8:52
    
I agree and that's why I specified usually. In this case at least, it seems to be the way to go. –  Vreality Nov 28 '12 at 16:31
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In the park is a set phrase, and this is what would normally be used. If you don't intend to tell the other person exactly which park, in the park is fine.

In a park emphasises the meeting is in a park, rather than (say) at a cinema.

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+1: 'In a park' makes it sound like there's some special reason why you've picked a park for the meeting. It almost begs the question: Why a park? –  Lynn Nov 27 '12 at 21:03
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@Lynn: It may raise the question, but it doesn't beg the question. –  user21497 Nov 27 '12 at 21:14
    
@BillFranke - Interesting. Learned something new today. But I stand by Merriam-Webster. :) –  Lynn Nov 27 '12 at 21:52
    
@Lynn: This is a new entry that reflects contemporary reality. IOW, only since mass ignorance became the "official" new knowledge has M-W carried this definition. M-W 3rd Unabridged didn't have it in its 2005 update. But M-W's dictionaries are purely descriptivist & don't make judgments about how the language is used & misused. What's really sad is that you & your generation never learned this stuff in high school, probably because it was information that a bunch of ancient men (& therefore now dead) thought was important for the art of rhetoric, which has become a "Like" on Facebook in 2012. –  user21497 Nov 27 '12 at 22:10
    
Neither a pure prescriptivist nor a pure descriptivist be. –  Edwin Ashworth Nov 28 '12 at 4:07
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Keep having arguments like this, and pretty soon you won't have any friends to meet anywhere :^)

On a more serious note, either one is fine – how can either statement be erroneous? Granted, the statement with "the park" more strongly suggests one of two things: either (a) a particular park has already been selected, or (b) you presume the listener can deduce which park you mean (perhaps you meet your friends at a certain park regularly, for example).1

However, neither of those caveats negates the fact that "a park" can be used in your declaration. In fact, there may be times where that would be the preferred way to say it (for example, maybe you don't want the other person to know your plans, so you are deliberately trying to be vague).


1 Condition (a) is true, as per your clarification; Condition (b) is possible, but not enough information has been given in your scenario to know for sure.

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