1
  • Use A(AN) when you are talking about a thing in general, NOT a specific thing. When talking about a thing which is new, unknown, or introduced to a listener for the first time. Also use A(AN) when you are asking about the existence of something.
  • Use THE when talking about something which is already known to the listener or which has been previously mentioned, introduced, or discussed.

I kind of understand the difference between the definite and indefinite articles. However, I don't quite understand when you should use the articles and when you should omit articles.

For example, when your classmate, John, asked you for photos of lecture notes and you send them via email. Do you write please see attachments because attachments is plural and he is seeing these attachments for the first time or please see the attachments because you're tell him to see these specific attachments and he knows what the attachments are(photos of lecture notes)?

Another example, you were driving, saw a abandoned car in the middle of the road, and sent a Snapchat of the abandoned car to your friends saying "someone left their car in the middle of the road!" Do you include the definite article because the road is introduced with the picture or if they know that road. Do you use the indefinite article a road if they don't know that road

-2

I would say

Please see the attached photos.

And the is used because I assume the person I'm writing to can identity which attached photos I am talking about, and these are the ones attached to the email. This assumption on the part of the speaker that the hearer can identify the referent governs a great deal of definite article usage. But by no means does it cover all uses.

You could omit the definite article and write

Please see attached photos.

or

Please see attachments.

This usage is "truncated" and similar to headlinese, where nonvital words are omitted; it also sounds brusque and iis reminiscent or typical of old fashioned business language. But it's not wrong.

By the way, about 60% of the time we use the when mentioning something for the first time. (Read any article and you can confirm this.) Also, the indefinite article can refer to specific things, such as in I married a woman from Minnesota. The noun phrase refers to a specific woman. Furthermore, native speakers often employ the as way of signaling to the listener the introduction of a new topic. (Have you heard about the new sandwich at Joe's restaurant?) So, a lot of these rules you've listed are untrue, even if commonly found.

As for someone left their car in the middle of the road!, you can say the because (a) 'the road', like many many other things, is idiomatic (another one is 'the night': someone hit my car in the middle of the night). You can also think of it like this: (b) if the photo has a road in it, then we know which one you're talking about. This is true even if the person has never heard of or seen this road before.

  • Are there more of idiomatic nouns that require the? – English101 Nov 4 '16 at 2:58
  • Road doesn't "require" the. It very often appears with the out of idiomatic usage. I think you should try to stop trying to learn rules about when to use articles and just expose yourself to more authentic English and casually observe how they are used. – Alan Carmack Nov 4 '16 at 4:49

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