Tell me please what is the difference between the following sentences.

It is totally fine to add suplementary exercises to the main lifts. Just do it at the right time.

It is totally fine to add suplementary exercises to the main lifts. Just do it at a right time.

I heard the latter in a podcast where two native speakers discussed strength training. I was totally confused because I thought that only the definite article could be used before words like right, or wrong. If the second one is also right, then what shade of meaning does it bear?

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    I assume you mean “a right time” not “a the right time”
    – Jim
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 17:29
  • 1
    Unless I'm missing a subtle difference in meaning between the phrasing in the last part of this question, you've already asked the identical question at ELL. Please consider deleting the question from one of the sites—or making the difference between them more obvious. Commented May 1, 2019 at 18:15
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    As I commented there, the statement that the is always used before right is simply false: There is a right time for everything. Are you talking only about the specific construction in your question—or about a general rule? Commented May 1, 2019 at 18:18
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    The second example, "at a right time" is incorrect. Native speakers doing recordings like podcasts often make grammar mistakes, so I wouldn't assume it's correct because you heard it on a podcast. You could instead say "at a good time" or "at an appropriate time" if you wanted to indicate that multiple times would work, but that timing is still important.
    – AlannaRose
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 18:26
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    The idiom is the right time. Definite article has an affinity with absolute words like right, correct, true. Any use of indefinite article simply refers to a group of definites -- There's a right time for everything means that one should wait for the right time, in every case. Commented May 25, 2020 at 21:18

2 Answers 2


It seems natural to always expect the rather than a before right time, because there often is only one right time for a particular thing. This, however, needn't always be so. Suppose that it is OK to do something either between 10 and 11 AM or between 2 and 3 PM, but that it would be wrong to do it at any other time of the day. Suppose, moreover that it needs to be done only once, and that it makes no difference whether it is done during the 10-11 or 2-3 timeslot; neither is better than the other. In that case, it would seem perfectly appropriate to instruct somebody to do it at 'a right time'. In fact, in such a scenario, telling someone to do it at 'the right time' could be confusing, because it would make the person wonder whether there are some considerations that make one time better than the other, after all.


This question is actually asking the difference between the word "the" and the word "a"

The difference between "the" and "a" is the number

"the" says there is only 1
"a" says there is more than 1, and any one will do

this is a constant rule and it doesn't matter what is being discussed

"the car" vs "a car"
"the cat with the torn ear" vs "a cat with a torn ear"

now for the dictionary bit:

1.1 Used to refer to a person, place, or thing that is unique.
‘the Queen’ ‘the Mona Lisa’ ‘the Nile’

both are from oxford dictionaries

2. Used to indicate membership of a class of people or things.

‘he is a lawyer’
‘this car is a BMW’

  • 3
    I think the question is more specific than that. It asks about “a right time” vs “the right time” noting that a rule he is aware of says “only the can come before right”.
    – Jim
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 17:32
  • @Jim maybe you are right.
    – WendyG
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 9:08

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