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I know that we can say:

There is only one car on the lot.

But is it possible to say:

There is only a car on the lot.

In general, are these two words interchangeable? Thank you!

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Both of your sentences are fine—but they don't mean the same thing.

There is only one car on the lot.

This means that the number of cars on the lot is 1.

There is only a car on the lot.

This means that there is nothing on the lot except for a single car. (No trucks, no people, no carts, and so on.)


It's true that in both sentences there is a single car on the lot. That specific piece of information is the same. But the overall meaning of each sentence is different.

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Etymologically the indefinite article 'an' and the numeral 'one' are the same. But in these sentences they differ a little. The answer to the question 'How many cars are there? is 'There is one car...'. The answer to the question 'Is there anything..?' is 'There is a car...'.

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