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It is important to communicate and find (a/the) middle ground.

How do I word this phrase? I've thought of three ways (a, the, no article) but I'm not sure which one is the most common/correct.

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  • It is important to communicate and find middle ground.
    – MaxW
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 21:29
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    Depending on context you can use "a", "the", or no determiner as desired.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 21:29

2 Answers 2

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All three are grammatical. Both the and a are common with little difference in meaning. A Google search suggests a is more common.

As a practical matter I suggest you pick either the or a and not fret about it. But thinking about this distinction could be useful, depending on how you learn a language. So if you're interested then read on!


In practice this is something of a variable set phrase. I'm quite sure I've heard both the and a in the wild from educated speakers. There is extremely subtle difference in meaning. However, because it's so subtle, it's likely that a native speaker simply heard it one way or another in childhood and internalized it.

But the subtlety is worth considering just to improve one's understanding of English articles. Really the subtlety is just a matter of pretending we're taking a figurative phrase literally, i.e. talking about literal ground. Summarizing:

We should find the middle ground.

Implies there is a single "territory" of compromises, not necessarily exactly one compromise position but a bounded territory of related compromises. Our efforts need to be aimed at finding that territory, as though we're looking for a lost city.

We should find a middle ground.

Across the "terrain" of outcomes there may be multiple places where we could find a mutually satisfactory solution. We need to look for one of these places, as though we're looking for a place to have a picnic.

@LawrenceC's response is very good for reviewing the general distinctions betwen definite and indirect articles. However, contra @LawrenceC, I don't think antecedent mentions of the middle ground (explicit or implied) really have much to do with which one is selected.

Again, this distinction is very subtle.

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The general rule with articles is - are you talking about a specific X (use the) or any X (use a/an).

"Middle ground" would only be specific if the listener/reader would understand which middle ground you are talking about.

  • If you talked about a middle ground in previous sentences and are referring to that same middle ground, use the.

  • If the middle ground is so obvious you expect the listener/reader to know which middle ground you are talking about, use the.

In your sentence:

It is important to communicate and find (a/the) middle ground.

It is X is the way you state a general fact. So everything in this sentence is not really referring to a previous instance of anything. So a middle ground would probably be most appropriate.

But, if previous conversation or context has been talking about things like compromise, getting along with others, nonconfrontation, then you can say the middle ground to link back to the conclusion you expect the listener/reader to draw.

Somewhat contrived example:

The aspects of group dynamics include managing conflict, which enables groups to function together effectively as teams. No group will work together for long without encountering a conflict. It is important to communicate and find the middle ground.

So we didn't talk about a "middle ground" earlier but are expecting the reader to follow along with our thoughts.

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    This answer risks overanalyzing something that in practice this is something of a variable set phrase. I'm quite sure I've heard both the and a in the wild. But it is a good statement of grammatical principles. Just to review these we can apply them here. I'll write this up as a response. Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 17:56

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