Which is the correct usage?

  1. "We live in a big house with a white door."

  2. "We live in the big house with a white door."

This question was asked in a competitive exam that I took. No other context was provided, just this single sentence. It's a fill in the blank question; the blank part to be filled is "the" big / "a" big. Which article is right?

We are using British English. Moreover the provisional key is showing "the" as the correct answer. I don't know on what basis they are using "the" as the correct one without any context. We need to report the complaint with proper explanation.

  • 2
    They're both correct, but should be used in different contexts. Aug 1, 2017 at 20:02
  • This question is asked in a competitive exam that I wrote. There is no context . It is single sentence that asked us to use the correct article .Which is more suitable "a" or "the" .
    – aspirant
    Aug 1, 2017 at 20:07
  • 1
    If this was on an exam, both answers should be considered correct. They are both grammatical, and they are both suitable for certain contexts. If you're explaining what your house looks like, you probably use (1). If you're explaining how to get to your house, you probably use (2). But my guess is that the examiners wanted (1). Aug 1, 2017 at 20:08
  • 1
    So I was wrong; the examiners wanted (2). This just shows how bad the question was. Aug 1, 2017 at 20:18
  • 2
    If it's "the big house" then it's the one with "the white door". Or else it's the local penitentiary.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 1, 2017 at 21:13

2 Answers 2


They mean different things.

We live in a big house with a white door.

This is a relatively standard description of the house one lives in, but the listener is not meant to actually know what house you are referring to.

We live in the big house with a white door.

This is a relatively strange description because of the mismatch "the"/"a". You are indicating that you expect the listener to know what house you are referring to, but not which door. This suggests, for example, that the door is interior to the house and is of some sort of importance to the listener, rather than being an arbitrary identifying characteristic:

"No," Sarah said, "You don't understand. The door is broken and my parents are going to kill me if they get home and see that I threw this big party."

My friend Josh spoke first. "I mean, if all you need is a door, we could probably just swap your door with the one from my room. I'll just tell my parents that I accidentally broke it."

Sarah declined. "Josh, I've been to your house, it's halfway across town. It'd take too long. Plus, your door is brown. My door is white."

"We could paint it," Josh offered.

"With what paint?! And how would it be dry by tonight?!" she fumed.

I looked to my sister and she nodded. I stepped in. "We live in the big house with a white door. I don't know how I'd explain that it broke to my folks, but I bet we can come up with something."

"The one just down the way?" Sarah asked.

"Yep, that one."

"Let me see this door."

Most likely you would instead see a completely different statement,

We live in the big house with the white door.

This is a relatively standard identification of which house belongs to you, out of a collection of other houses where some of them have white doors but one in particular stands out as "big".


I would only use the big house, when someone has already seen the house before, but does not know that you live there. For example if someone is from a village and knows what the village looks like you can say I live in the big house with a white door. Otherwise I would say a big house, cause it could be any white house.

  • If you're giving directions to somebody who has never been to your house, you would say: "Turn right on Old Forest Street, and go half a block. We live in the big house with a white door." Aug 1, 2017 at 20:14
  • How about in general case. The questioner didn't provide the context here. It is a simple sentence asks us to use the proper article.
    – aspirant
    Aug 1, 2017 at 20:26
  • 1
    If unsure, #1 is correct. For #2, more context is needed. Therefore without any framework, I'd use #1. Aug 1, 2017 at 20:32
  • @abc: I mentioned that it didn't provide any context. It is a simple sentence.
    – aspirant
    Aug 1, 2017 at 20:47

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