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Which of the following sentences would you consider most acceptable, and why? Please assume knowledge of the difference between the definite and indefinite articles here and that they are used intentionally. The question specifically relates to the choice of article with respect to the preposition which follows - in these cases, of/about.

A - I want to tell you a story about Mark.
B - I want to tell you the story about Mark.

C - I want to tell you a story of Mark.
D - I want to tell you the story of Mark.

My instinct, as a native speaker, is that A and D are more acceptable than B and C, but I can't explain why.

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    You are, hold your breath, correct! Think again and it may start getting clear why. :) – Kris Feb 19 '14 at 9:21
  • +1 Leon Conrad, you may not be aware but you have raised a question of much significance. – Kris Feb 21 '14 at 6:28
  • Why still? Can you elaborate, so maybe we could improve the answers? – Kris Feb 21 '14 at 6:31
  • @Kris I haven't got any further than my analysis in my response to Barrie below. – Leon Conrad Feb 21 '14 at 6:32
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    I can't think of any reason why story should be any different. Rightaway, I can think of question: "It's a question of" is in no way the same as "It's a question about." Many more must be possible. – Kris Feb 21 '14 at 6:43
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Story of Mark can only mean the (one and only, whole) of Mark's story. Naturally, the definite article goes with it.

D - I want to tell you the story of Mark.

On the other hand, Story about Mark could be one of many such, (though not necessarily). Accordingly, one could construe of it as a story.

A - I want to tell you a story about Mark.

The prepositions thus tell their own story.

  • Absolutely. Of course, there's always the possibility of "I want to tell you a story of Mark's" - meaning Mark has many stories (created by him, not about him), and I'm going to tell you one of them. – FumbleFingers Feb 19 '14 at 17:10
  • @FumbleFingers Yes. In fact, I thought it should really be D - I want to tell you the story of Mark 's., but decided to drop the possessive/attributive lest it mean a 'creation of' rather than 'an attribute of'. – Kris Feb 20 '14 at 7:04
  • I think it's more obvious with "a portrait of him" (he's the subject of the painting) vs. "a portrait of his" (he painted it and/or owns it). – FumbleFingers Feb 20 '14 at 12:08
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They're all grammatical. Which you use depends on what you want to express. Of the four, C is the least likely to be required.

  • Thanks. I appreciate they are grammatically correct. It would be useful to know what distinctions in meaning you understand between the pairings of the words in bold in my question. – Leon Conrad Feb 19 '14 at 9:20
  • I think you should first tell us exactly what it is you want to express. – Barrie England Feb 19 '14 at 9:36
  • 'A story' would be one of many possible ones; 'The story' would be a specific one. 'Story of' implies a linking of content and form, eg 'King of England', 'saddle of beef'; 'story about' implies a sense of enclosure of the potential subject, emphasising the limitation of the form, but not the specification of the subject, eg 'round about way'/'roundabout' or 'about turn' emphasising peripheries, rather than the central points around which they revolve. I could say 'a/the' in relation to any of these examples, but the 'story' ones seem different. I'm trying to figure out why. – Leon Conrad Feb 19 '14 at 9:57
  • A if your readers don’t know which story you’re talking about. B if they do. D if you’re telling the story of his life. C only in very unusual circumstances. – Barrie England Feb 19 '14 at 10:05
  • which circumstances would you use 'C' in? I agree about the other circumstances you outline, but they have more to do with the sense of the articles used, than the relationship between the articles and the prepositions, which I'm still puzzled about, although Kris has come near to a satisfactory answer. – Leon Conrad Feb 19 '14 at 10:08

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