Definite article: Use the before superlatives and ordinal numbers. Education First

  • This is the third time I have called you today.

But I found the following sentence in UPS website. And the "a second attempt" expression is commonly used.

I missed a delivery. Can the driver make a second attempt today?

it seems sometimes we can indefinite articles with ordinal numbers. so when can we use indefinite articles with ordinal numbers?

Google Negram:

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  • 7
    I think that page is actually slightly misleading. The rule is basically the same as it is for definite or indefinite articles with anything else: the difference is between a specific known thing (He sits on the throne of England, I ate the pie you gave me, this is the third time) and a single but nonspecific object (I saw a bright light, a tiger ate my lamb, I would like to make a second attempt). There isn't really a separate rule for ordinal numbers.
    – stangdon
    Feb 28, 2017 at 15:58
  • 1
    Once there is an actual attempt, it would be "the" second attempt. If you're talking about a future event of this nature, there are endless options for precisely when or even how it would be accomplished. So "a" second attempt refers to an unspecified one of those possibilities.
    – fixer1234
    Feb 28, 2017 at 20:11
  • 1
    Duplicate of ell.stackexchange.com/questions/55487/article-before-ordinal-numbers Mar 6, 2017 at 18:49
  • english.stackexchange.com/questions/1587/using-the-before-ordinal-numbers may be of help Mar 6, 2017 at 18:55

1 Answer 1


Ignore the article you read. It's misleading.

Use 'a' if the 'second attempt' you are talking about has not happened yet. Use the if the 'second attempt' has already happened, and you are referring to it at a later point. Therefore, 'can the driver make a second attempt today?' is perfectly correct, because the driver is being asked to do something (the 'second attempt') that has not already happened.

If you were talking about the first attempt, which presumably failed, then you would use 'the', because if it failed, then it must have already happened (if you remember the rule I mentioned). So, you could say 'unfortunately, the driver failed on the first attempt', but NOT 'unfortunately, the driver failed on a first attempt'.

Similarly, you should NOT say 'can the driver make a second attempt today?' because the 'second attempt' is merely a REQUEST, meaning it obviously has not already happened.

Feel free to ask about this in the comment section, if you want me to make anything clearer.

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