Why is it "played a main role", not "played the main role" in the example statements below?

  • Before the invention of transistors vacuum tubes played a main role in electronics.

  • He played a main role in granting rapid independence for Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea. (thetimes.co.uk)

  • According to the magazine, Rice played a main role in trying to persuade Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to offer training and funding to the Fatah fighters. (theguardian.com)

  • The passive safety system played a main role in the past and the active systems so-called advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) will become...

Isn't it that main meaning the most important should be preceded with the article?

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    "A main role" indicates that there could be more than one "main role". If I say "the main role" then I assert that there was only one "main role". So, none of your examples makes that claim. Vacuum tubes played a main role, but possibly other things played main roles as well. – GEdgar Nov 11 '19 at 18:24
  • 1
    There's nothing wrong with 'One of the most important / main reasons for holding a General Election at this time is ...'. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 11 '19 at 19:04
  • I understand, but "main" is "main" ,"one", "the most important". How can there be two or more "mains"? Where's the consistency? Wouldn't it be more accurate to say "one of the main roles", the way we say "one of the most important (plural noun)"? – shogun Nov 12 '19 at 19:59
  • The same reason something can be "more unique". We don't always speak literally. – Barmar Nov 13 '19 at 23:25

Sometimes there are two or more "main roles". An example might be, "The main roles of a man's life are husband and father.".

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