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I am writing an email to a colleague, not a close friend. And I want to let him know about my online availability:

"Tomorrow at 11AM I will shutdown my laptop and will start heading for ... airport".

OK, now which article should I use? THE or AN? I know what airport I'll be taking off from, but he does not know that, and he does not need to know.

Would a native speaker care to explain? Thanks!

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, tchrist, anongoodnurse, David M, MrHen Mar 25 '14 at 16:44

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Since you know which airport you are going, you should say 'the airport'. If you had no idea what your destination was, you would say 'an airport'.

If he knows which airport doesn't matter - you are saying that you know it yourself.

  • Thank you, it makes sense! Are "thank you" welcome here? I'm a total newbie :-) – Adam Mar 24 '14 at 22:07
  • It's more a matter of general definiteness. A person may not know exactly which airport they need to go to (they could have arrived in a strange city late the previous evening); in this case, the is used to specify 'the relevant airport'. Similarly, we'd say 'Don't throw litter out of your car window into the road,' even if there is no notion of the car's location. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 24 '14 at 22:20
  • You know just where the car is. On the road you are driving on. – Oldcat Mar 24 '14 at 22:31
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In American English, it's common practice to use the definite article with "institutional" or "class" nouns while not intending to be specific, as the following examples illustrate:

  • You'll need to get that at the store.
  • I've been in the hospital.
  • We're on the freeway/road/sea.
  • She was on the TV last night.
  • They'll always check your ID at the airport.

This isn't a rule (for being non-specific) that can be applied to all nouns of this type:

  • You can take communion at church. (This is non-specific.)
  • You can take communion at the church. (This is specific.)

De facto rules for British English are different here, and hospital vs. the hospital is but one illustration of that difference.

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