I am bit confused on what to put - 'a' or 'the' before "better"

for example

  • better life
  • better job
  • better work
  • 1
    It depends on whether the context is a simple comparison or something closer to Kant's categorical imperative. – Lawrence Feb 4 '16 at 6:41
  • Context is simple. For example, a book or note title – I-M-JM Feb 4 '16 at 6:50
  • Adjectives do not affect the correct article that depends on your intended meaning. – Tim Lymington Feb 4 '16 at 11:29
  • @ I-M-JM The whole purpose of the determinatives "the and "a" is to mark a noun phrase as definite or indefinite. If I use a definite NP to say I want the better job, I'm assuming you know which job I'm referring to. But there's no such assumption made with an indefinite NP, as in I want a better job. – BillJ Feb 4 '16 at 11:50

If you're asking about the definite and indefinite articles in general, have a look at these questions on ELU and this question on ELL.

For better, there is another consideration that depends on the context of the situation. That is, it depends on the way in which you consider that life, job or work to be better.

For example, if Company A offers you a job that is more enjoyable and pays more than Company B, you are faced with a simple comparison. You might say:

Company A is offering a better job than Company B.

If Company A paid less than Company B, it's still a simple comparison (English-wise, anyway), and you can use the same sentence if you preferred Company A overall.

On the other hand, if you are contrasting an honest profession with a disreputable one, you're invoking something like Kant's categorical imperative. There's really only one choice that can even be considered good. In that case, you would use 'the'. For example:

Honest living may not pay as well as criminal activity, but it is the better life.

  • I think it's important to bring out the indefinite vs definite contrast between the two articles "a" and "the". The indefinite NP a better job assumes one's listener does not know what job you're talking about, whereas the definite NP the better job assumes that they do. – BillJ Feb 4 '16 at 12:21
  • @BillJ That's a consideration as well. I've added it as an introduction. – Lawrence Feb 4 '16 at 12:40

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