Sometime later, a few hunters captured the lion, and tied him to a tree. After that they went in search of a wagon, to take him to the zoo. The Lion and the Mouse

Why does the writer use a (indefinite article) with wagon and the (definite article) with zoo?

What I think: they want to find any wagon and get it to move the loin to specific zoo. and this zoo either associated (maybe they work at it) with them somehow or there is one zoo in the region.

  • 2
    Presumably, any wagon would do (provided it would suitably transport him), but they were talking about only one zoo.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 11:16
  • @Lawrence which zoo? as reader or listener, I don't know it. shouldn't he say "to take him to a zoo", which indefinite to the reader.
    – Shannak
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 11:18
  • 1
    Grammatically, both are fine. The author may have used the because they were only familiar with one zoo near them, or they might have used "the zoo" in the generic sense, in the same way some say "He went to see the dentist". As for your question (Why does the writer say ...?), without further clarification from the author, we can only guess at their intention.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 11:24
  • 3
    Also, generally, in one city, there is usually only one the zoo, which is why we usually say, "Let's go to the zoo!" and don't say, "Let's go to a zoo!" Of course, nowadays, in modern cities, there may be more than one, but when zoos first came into existence, they were less prevalent. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 11:37
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    On the other hand, there is also an argument for the use of the word "the" to refer to a concept that both the speaker and listener are familiar with. See the Q&A here: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/116418/…. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 11:39

2 Answers 2


There is a difference between "search" (for something) and "take" (to somewhere). In:

after that they went in search of a wagon

when searching you don't know what you will find. So it cannot be a definite wagon, so use a.

to take him to the zoo

it is implied that there is a specific destination (zoo) in mind, even if it is not specified. Same as if I say "I am going to the store", I know what store I am going to, even if I don't tell you. So use the.


The question is not which article is correct, but which meaning the speaker has in mind and wants to convey. The choice of article is made at a really deep level and native speakers do not tend to plan it out consciously, although a careful author might very well do so.

We can indeed say

They went in search of a wagon to take the lion to a zoo.

When would we use a?

a zoo might be used if the situation was one where the trappers needed to find a zoo that would accept the lion, or if the town or city did not have its own zoo. In other words, if this story were not a parable but an account in the newspaper.

The parable presents a simpler world without such vagaries or logistical issues. They are completely out of mind.

The story, by using the, takes for granted that every town has a zoo or glosses over the fact that not every town has its own zoo because such issues are unimportant in the context of the story. The idea could be as simple as the natural place to take a lion you have trapped is the zoo, the one that always exists, of course, the place with all the animals in cages or in mock habitats.

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