I have a question regarding the usage of articles. What is the difference between "a" and "the"?

Why do I need to use "a" in "that was a winter I"ll never forget."? Can I use "the" instead?

Also, why do I need to use "the" in "that was the winter we went to Norway"?

Thank you very much!!^^

marked as duplicate by ruakh, Janus Bahs Jacquet, RegDwigнt Jan 30 '18 at 10:57

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The is used to refer to specific or particular nouns; a is used to modify non-specific or non-particular nouns.

the = definite article

a = indefinite article

For example, if I say, "Let's read the book," I mean a specific book. If I say, "Let's read a book," I mean any book rather than a specific book.

Another example, "I went to a forest. *The forest was big.". In this first forest was indefinite one, and after I said the first sentence it became definite one and used the instead.

And in your example, winter is indefinite on "that was a winter I"ll never forget." and become definite and used the in "that was the winter we went to Norway".


  • Thank you so much! You explained it very clearly and now I know the difference between these two articles. Thanks again!! ^^ – Ah Suet Ho Feb 2 '18 at 3:35

The second of two coreferential noun phrases must be definite. The first (indefinite) noun phrase may be inexplicit in a conversational context, so that the use of "the" conveys to a hearer the assumption that there is such a unique thing in the context which could have been mentioned, even if that was not done explicitly.

For instance, if I am talking to you on the phone and I say "I've got one here on the bed," now you know there is a bed in my vicinity, and only one nearby bed that the thing could be on. It would be tiresome if we had to make all such background assumptions explicit.

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