When should I use "a" or "the" to talk about something in general?

The first example:

The computer has revolutionized

A computer has revolutionized

The second example:

The computer is an important research tool

A computer is an important research tool

Can someone explain the difference in meaning between these two sentences?

  • For the generality, I'd use computers have revolutionized for the first two. And A computer is an important research tool. for the second two. – Abbasi Dec 31 '16 at 15:43

For your first example

The computer has revolutionized

is correct. That is, it is computers in general, not a specific computer that has changed life as we know it.

For your second example, I think either works, although I lean towards "A computer ...". I'd be interested to see what others say.

| improve this answer | |
  • The first example is just more obvious. A generic statement always take the definite article 'the'. 'A computer can be…' for instance, isn't truly generic; it's a specific example being used to illustrate a general idea. – Robbie Goodwin Jan 12 '17 at 1:27

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