My friend and I are in an argument regarding the usage of the phrases listed in the title.

The situation is: Facebook starts screwing up message sending for a while. I express my concerns: "What's wrong with Facebook"? A friend replies "I can't see a difference".

This looked correct or at least acceptable in spoken English - people seem to use it. An alternative, and perhaps even more correct, would be "I can't see ANY difference".

However, my friend insists the sole correct form in this case would be "I can't see THE difference", backing it up with a parallel to the customary of the definite article (we already know what we can't see the difference between). IMO, "the difference" is more suited for cases where we instantly list the things we're comparing, e.g. "I can't see the difference between Araya's and Petrozza's voices". It just doesn't seem to look so good on its own to me. I know these are rather subtle nuances, but IMO:

"I can't see a/any difference" but "I can't see the difference between A and B".

Am I correct on this?

  • 1
    Actually, Xfing, I see all 3 variations as an abbreviated and acceptable version of "I can't see a/any/the difference between before and now." As long as the speaker and their audience are all aware of the topic (FB Messaging, before and now), any of the 3 could be used and be correct since the unspoken rest of the sentence is basically the same. Mar 6 '14 at 20:48
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    Thanks Kristina. That's actually what I'd thought initially, it seems as though people use these three variants pretty much interchangeably. My feeling of what felt more "natural" must have definitely been based on exposure.
    – Xfing
    Mar 6 '14 at 20:59

The differences are as follows:

I can't see the difference.

"the" is the definite article (a specific object that both the person speaking and the listener know). See this article.

Hence the person who has wrote this is stating that they cannot see "the" difference; the use of "the" implies that the writer is aware of a definite difference.

I can't see a difference.

"a" is the indefinite article (not a specific object, one of a number of the same objects). See the article mentioned above.

The use of "a" implies that the writer is questioning whether there is actually any specific difference.

Hence if a difference definitely exists use "the" instead of "a".

  • 1
    This, exactly. "Can't see a difference" would be appropriate when the writer is not willing to concede that there is a difference to be seen.
    – phenry
    Mar 7 '14 at 1:24

I can't see a difference. I can't see any difference.

Looking at this cold, these look the same to me.

I can't see the difference.

You have pointed out a particular potential difference maker and I don't agree that it matters.

  • This is the answer I would have given. Mar 6 '14 at 23:04

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