I'm a little bit confused about the articles in the following sentence:

We celebrated the New Year by the campfire on a riverbank (...) we stayed at a campsite just up the road from the campfire place.

Is it correct to say "by THE campfire", "on A riverbank", and "at A campsite" in this case? Or should it be "by A campfire", etc?

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    It could be "the campfire" or "a campfire", depending on the full context and the intended meaning. Similarly with "riverbank". – Hot Licks Feb 3 '17 at 4:16
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    There are plenty of prior questions on this, and you should spend some time reviewing them. – Hot Licks Feb 3 '17 at 4:17
  • Sorry about that, it's just very hard to understand the concept of the definite article sometimes not being an native English speaker. So is it correct to say something like "We spend the New Year's Even by a campfire on a riverbank with a group of friends playing the guitar and singing." Or should it be "by THE campfire"? Thank you! – Minimu Feb 3 '17 at 4:31
  • @Minimu In this case, it doesn't change the meaning at all. – user210771 Feb 3 '17 at 4:44

The rules for using English articles are idiomatically complicated, but to a first approximation, use the definite article (the) for a specifically identified item and the indefinite articles (a,an) for generic items. Consider the following:

We paddled our canoes on the Hudson River until we were about ten miles north of Poughkeepsie, where we celebrated the New Year by a campfire on the riverbank.

The campfire is any old campfire, nothing to distinguish it from any other, so the indefinite article is appropriate. In contrast, the riverbank you're talking about isn't just any old riverbank, it's one that confines a particular river, so the definite article is appropriate. Note that this is different from your original example -- you could be referring to any riverbank.

The narrative continues:

We stayed at a campsite just up the road from the campfire place.

Campfire first. In this sentence it take the definite article because the previous mention has lent the campfire specificity. It's now not just any campfire. It's the one mentioned in the previous sentence.

Road next. Maddeningly enough, this doesn't seem to be a reference to a particular road, so saying "just up a road" would be fine. But up the road is an idiomatic phrase that can mean some distance. (Go here for a discussion of up the road a ways.) Just as maddeningly, up and down aren't necessarily opposites with roads accompanied by definite articles. Consider the Grateful Dead song "Goin' Down the Road, Feelin' Bad".

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