The sentence is:

All the children of my class agreed not to learn poetry by heart just to avoid an / the unpleasant process.

I can rewrite dividing it into two sentences. Article "a" is obvious here:

All the children of my class agreed not to learn poetry by heart. We all know that learning is a difficult process.

But should I use article "the" in the single sentence because process has already been mentioned as learning?

  • The whole sentence is strange. "The children (definite ones) of a class (indefinite one? some unknown class?) agreed not to learn poetry by heart just to avoid an unpleasant process (any unpleasant process that can occur)" – SovereignSun Aug 22 '17 at 10:51
  • @SovereignSun It is an example, all the children of some class, a process of learning poetry is difficult. The sentence is OK – Alexander Madyuskin Aug 22 '17 at 10:57
  • I think either article can be used, but the first part of that sentence reads very awkwardly... – J.R. Aug 22 '17 at 11:06
  • 1
    @SovereignSun There's nothing awkward about the children in a class, because children definitionally constitute one. – userr2684291 Aug 22 '17 at 11:33

In the specific context of the first sentence, the is better since the reader already knows that "learning poetry by heart" is the process you mean. Examples:

I could bake a cake for my friend's birthday party, but I don't want to go to the trouble.

baking a cake = the trouble

Could you go down to the store to buy me some things? I don't want to take the time.

running to the store = the time

However, you could say "an unpleasant process" if you want to suggest that there are other, related, unpleasant processes, of which learning poetry by heart is just one.

I don't like to clean my room, it's a real bother

cleaning my room = a bother

Unfortunately, a lot of this seems to be idiomatic, for example you could ask someone to "take the time" to do something but "only if it's not a bother".


The unpleasant process will refer to a particular unpleasant process. Meaning you know exactly which process it is referring to.

An unpleasant process will refer to an unknown unpleasant process. Meaning you don't know exactly which process that might be.

  • In your second sentence, this could apply to an unknown, or unspecified unpleasant process. It could be one of many that are known, but which particular one has not been specified. – Davo Aug 22 '17 at 14:37
  • Yes exactly! Hopefully OP understood my point anyway ;-) – ssn Aug 22 '17 at 14:39

Either the or an is possible there, although the is probably more likely.

The makes a noun phrase definite, and we most often use definite noun phrases when we think the reader can identify the referent (the thing being referred to or talked about). Here, by context, the reader can identify the unpleasant process as to learn poetry by heart.

But the sentence is still grammatical using an unpleasant process; the author is now speaking indefinitely. In this case we don't know if the author wants his readers to identify the process with the memorization; using an unpleasant process would be ambiguous here. It could refer to the memorization or it could refer to any unpleasant process.

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