Last night I was watching a movie and towards the end of the movie there was a dialogue which goes like this -- "This is the last time you are seeing a guy like this."

The speaker was telling this about himself to a number of people. So the question is, if the speaker is specifically referring to himself then why is the noun guy not preceded by the instead of a?

closed as off-topic by NVZ, Edwin Ashworth, Dan Bron, Drew, Chenmunka Mar 28 '17 at 8:45

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  • Sure it wasn't The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you.? – oerkelens Mar 27 '17 at 13:19
  • The guy whom he represents (in acting) is not known to others previously. From the grammatical point of view, the guy is a first-time referent. – mahmud koya Mar 27 '17 at 13:40
  • @mahmud First-time referents are very often definite references. Consider I disagree with the thesis written by Guya Jones. The thesis written by Guya Jones is a first time referent that is at the same time immediately identifiable. Also, read any popular article on the Internet; about 2 out of 3 definite references will be "first mentions." – AmE speaker Mar 27 '17 at 13:52
  • @Clare, Then we have to discuss the whole topic of Articles here. I know that all the first-time referents won't take an indefinite article. We are discussing here the use of the indefinite article in the context of 'first-time' use and 'previously unknowing' to the audience. See, one of the uses of the definite article is: with countable singular nouns which are known to the audience either by previous mentioning or by their commonly knowing meaning. As your example, a first time reader or listener has no difficulty to know what a "thesis" is and when the author is mentioned, it is specific. – mahmud koya Mar 27 '17 at 15:08

The names of the articles in English are not the specific and 'inspecific', but the definite and indefinite.

That is, definiteness and specificity are two different properties of noun phrases. In English, the definite article marks a noun phrase as being definite. All the time, or perhaps with very few exceptions, a definite noun phrase is also specific.

Meanwhile, the indefinite article marks a noun phrase as indefinite. However, an indefinite noun phrase can be either specific or non-specific. The usage of the indefinite noun phrase a guy like this to refer to a known or specified individual, such as oneself, is an example of an indefinite, specific noun phrase. An example of an indefinite, non-specific noun phrase is a guy from Canada in I want to marry a guy from Canada (as in 'any guy from Canada'). But the same noun phrase is indefinite, specific in I married a guy from Canada.

  • Accepted though. But in one of the sites of articles it mentions, " Use indefinite articles when the hearer or reader doesn't know which one we are referring to". But here the 'no of people' which I referred to in my original question knew what the speaker was referring to. Then why not 'the' according to the above said reason ? – user227275 Mar 27 '17 at 13:44
  • 2
    Because the site isn't giving the complete explanation. – Peter Shor Mar 27 '17 at 13:44
  • @PeterShor - Would appreciate if you could explain in a simple way – user227275 Mar 27 '17 at 13:46
  • The indefinite article is used when the noun is indefinite or nonspecific and it is referred to for the first time. Even when the person or thing referred to is known both to speaker and listener, a new quality in him/it which is not previously known, is referred to for the first time, a/an is used. See for an example: (a teacher says to his students) "if you come tomorrow without doing the homework, you have to see a new face of mine". Why this use of "a new face"? Because it will be a new thing for the students from their very well-known teacher. – mahmud koya Mar 27 '17 at 13:59
  • @Clare, Is "inspecific" a correct antonym of 'specific'? – mahmud koya Mar 27 '17 at 14:02

While it seems the speaker is referring to himself directly, he is actually doing so indirectly.

He is constructing a category for his audience: guys like this, and implying that he is a member of this category.

His use of the indefinite article denotes a representative of that category in the abstract. While "a guy like this" could mean any "guy" matching the particular qualities he is evoking for his audience, from the context we understand he is referring to himself as the particular example. Presumably, there is no other "guy" in the context that he would be referring to.

This all enables him to evoke his unique personality or abilities, etc. for the audience at the same time he refers to himself. He's not just a guy, he's a guy like this.

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