After more than ten years of learning English, I still have a few problems with articles.
Which of the following two sentences is correct and why?
A cow is an animal.
The cow is an animal.
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Both can be considered correct, depending on the situation. "A" and "an" are considered indefinite articles. Therefore, when you say "a cow" or "an apple", you wouldn't have a definite/particular cow or apple in mind. "The" is a definite article. Therefore, when you say "the cow", you would have a definite/particular cow in mind.
In some sense, though, my answer is over-generalized. The sentence "the cow is an animal" could also refer more generally to the taxonomical genus to which cows belong. However, even this would still be a definite use of "the" because you have a particular genus in mind.