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When I have an expression comprising two nouns does the article (a/an/the) refer to the first or to the second one? E.g. when talking about some group (we introduced it, there's only one), we would use the when referring to the group but then we also introduce someone being the leader of the group:

...there are at least 10 people in the group. However, if there's a group leader, we'd have to...

And even when I write that, I lean towards the a version as it just sounds natural to me. So that would mean the article refers to the 2nd noun (being the main object) and not the 1st one (acting as an epithet here). But is that correct? Is that always the case?

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    'Group' here is being used to modify (add further information about the referent of) the noun 'leader'; the article or other determiner corresponds to the head noun. Thus 'several football managers'. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 7 '15 at 15:06
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...there are at least 10 people in the group. However, if there's a group leader, we'd have to...

In the first sentence, the word group is a noun. In the second sentence, it's used as an adjective: a "noun adjunct". Thus, the indefinite article a modifies the noun word leader.

You can remodel the sentence to make the word group a noun in the second sentence:

However, if there is a leader in the group, we'd have to..

Now, you do need the definite article before group.

Per Barmar's comment, you can omit the word group from the second sentence altogether:

...there are at least 10 people in the group. However, if there's a leader, we'd have to...

The reference to the group would be then implicit.

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    Notice also that the word group can even be omitted from the second sentence: if there's a leader.... The reference to the group is implicit. – Barmar Feb 7 '15 at 15:49

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