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1,A chicken I bought yesterday is missing.

2,Her father was shot by a man trying to rob his retail store.

Theoretically, a phrase that refers to something identified uniquely should take a definite article.

Like scenario 1, "A chicken." indicates I bought more than one chicken yesterday. If I only bought one chicken, this sentence should be rephrased as "The " chicken I bought yesterday is missing."

But Scenario 2, many people feel that "a" doesn't exclude the possibility that there was only one man robbing. How is this happening?

  • The man is unidentified, either because he got away or because his identity isn't revealed in the context of the sentence. – Hot Licks Oct 25 '19 at 1:56
  • Why do you think it's wrong to say a chicken? – David M Oct 25 '19 at 1:56
  • Because I think I have to make a choice between "the" and "a", and , if I had bought only one chicken, "the" sounds more appropriate. Are you suggesting that, in this case, both articles are correct? – Robby zhu Oct 25 '19 at 7:15
  • @Robbyzhu Yes, "a chicken" is fine, even if only one chicken is meant. – Oliver Mason Oct 25 '19 at 10:17
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    If you want to say definitively you bought more than one chicken, you say one of the chickens I bought yesterday is missing. Why would native English speakers use one of the so often if a meant exactly the same thing? – Peter Shor Oct 25 '19 at 10:32
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A chicken I bought yesterday is missing.

The sentence may mean you might have bought more than one chicken or only one chicken. One of the chickens you bought or the only chicken you bought is missing

The chicken I bought is missing may mean you bought one chicken and the chicken is missing.

Her father was shot by a man trying to rob his retail store

Her father was shot by a man (who was unidentified) trying to rob his retail store.

I think this does not mean that only one man tried to rob the store. It may mean there were some men and one of them shot her father without being identified.

We can not say exactly what happened without knowing the context. The use of articles can not exactly reveal the facts.

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