I have a question related to "the." There is a situation like this: My friend, while writing, is asking me what it is (and points at a black dot thinking that I wanted to write something). What should I say?

  1. It's paper. I didn't write anything.
  2. It's the paper. I didn't...

Or maybe are both correct in this case? Would 1) mean it is paper in general and that kind of paper can look like this while 2) would mean the paper she is writing on right now?


To answer your question more specifically:

It's paper. I didn't write anything.

...means that all paper is like this, having random black dots here and there.

It's the paper. I didn't...

...means that this specific piece of paper is like this.

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It's a little unclear why you would answer "it's paper" when she's pointing to a black mark that is on the paper, unless you're trying to make a joke.

A: What's this? (holding up a paper with some strange writing on it)
B: It's a piece of paper.
A: Yes, I know. But what's it say?

Note I use both "a paper" and "a piece of paper". They mean the same thing, but "a piece of paper" is more specific.

Other examples with paper:

A: What's this?
B: It's the paper I've been looking for. Thanks!

A: What's this material? (touching a lampshade)
B: It's paper, I think.

So "paper" by itself refers to the (uncountable) material, "a paper" or "a piece of paper" is the unspecified single sheet of paper, and "the paper" (or "the piece of paper") refers to a specific, known sheet of paper.

Keep in mind that "paper" can also refer to something like a school report, or some kind of official written document.

A: What's this?
B: Oh, that's the paper I wrote for my Literature class last semester. I don't need it anymore.

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