Can I switch "the" to "a" in this context?

Tom: Can you play the video?
Ann: Video? What video? (the person doesn't remember)
Tom: We watched a video 10 minutes ago.

Is the last sentence okay? As for a learner who doesn't have the articles in her mother tongue, I want to be sure.

Another question: go to a concert vs go to the concert

  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo No, there are two options, I suppose, in the meaning of the question What video? : 1) What are you talking about? meaning the activity per se, I don't remember watching anything, 2) What a video are you talking about? The articles in the reply are respectively a and the. Aug 25, 2017 at 21:29
  • @Mv Log. No, there is but one option: "Video? What video?" means "What video are you talking about?" That is, Ann's questioning response indicates that Tom's question has come "out of the blue".
    – TimR
    Aug 26, 2017 at 10:33
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo How about the dialogue in "edit"? Do you agree with my teacher? Aug 26, 2017 at 10:35
  • @J. Doe. The problem article is the in Tom's first remark. In using that article, Tom is assuming that Ann will know that Tom is referring to something in particular. Ann's reply indicates that she has no idea what Tom is referring to. If Tom wants to tell Ann that he wants her to replay the video they watched earlier, Tom, if he's not being snarky, would reply "The video we watched 10 minutes ago". TOM NEEDS TO RESPOND TO ANN'S QUESTION, and that final statement by Tom is simply not a response to her question.
    – TimR
    Aug 26, 2017 at 10:39
  • 1
    Ask a new question, then, @J.Doe. Comments are for discussing the current question, not a springboard for new questions.
    – TimR
    Aug 28, 2017 at 14:42

4 Answers 4


Articles are not mysterious once you understand their conversational purpose.

When speakers use the definite article, the, they are indicating to the listener that they have something particular in mind, and that they expect to listener to know what that thing is.

So, when Tom says to Ann "Can you play the video?" he is assuming that Ann knows which video he is referring to.

When Ann replies "Video? What video?" she is letting Tom know that she does not know which video he is referring to, and she is asking Tom for clarification. "Video? What video?" means "I have no idea which video you are referring to. Which one do you mean?"

If Tom is going to give Ann the clarification she requested, he needs to tell Ann which video he has in mind. The idiomatic way to do so is to say:

"The video we watched 10 minutes ago"


"The video we talked about over lunch, the one you said you had a copy of".

or some other response that identifies the video Tom has in mind.

A statement like "We watched a video 10 minutes ago." is simply not a response to Ann's request that Tom identify the video he has in mind. It might be construed as a mildly sarcastic response, chiding Ann for having already forgotten the video they watched just 10 minutes earlier, but in Ann's defense, who would ask to see a video they've just seen without using the word again???

Tom: Please play the video again.


'a video' can be any video. 'the video' is the video people specifically know which video it is in the context.

  • 1
    Yes but the person still doesn't know what video I am talking about and as far as I know articles are important for the listener more than for the speaker. Aug 24, 2017 at 11:11

Articles are words that define a noun as specific or unspecific. There are three articles in English language, "a", "an" and "the". Consider the following examples:

After the long day, the cup of tea tasted particularly good.

By using the article the, we’ve shown that it was one specific day that was long and one specific cup of tea that tasted good.

After a long day, a cup of tea tastes particularly good.

This statement tells a general fact that any cup of tea would taste good after any long day.

So when we don't want to point to some specific noun, we use a (or an if it begins with a vowel), else we use the.

Hence, if you want to convey through your statement to play any video use a, else if you want the listener to play some specific video use the.

  • Really? What about I married a Japanese woman. Are you saying that the woman here is not specific? Certainly the speaker of the sentence has only one woman in mind. What about: There's a dog chewing the fence? Is this not talking about a specific dog, which can be identified? Aug 24, 2017 at 6:44
  • 2
    I think you have misunderstood about what I was trying to convey. Let's take your example. "I married a Japanese woman" ---> In this sentence the speaker is not pointing to any one woman in particular. It's more like he is stating a fact that his woman is from Japan. And if the sentence is modified like "I married the Japanese woman who works in that restaurant by the corner", we are pointing to a particular woman here.. hence "the" is used. Please do correct me if I am wrong! I am a beginner !
    – Swasti Gupta
    Aug 24, 2017 at 6:53
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    This post doesn't answer the question. Can the poster swap the definite article with the indefinite in the short dialogue he or she has written? Is the usage of the article correct in their last sentence?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 24, 2017 at 8:08
  • I second Mari-Lou. This answer is not an answer. It's just a most generic mention of a most general rule that has nothing to do with the situation at hand. Worse still, if I apply it to the situation at hand, I actually get the wrong answer. Worse still, after you applied it to the situation at hand, you actually got two wrong answers. This is horrible.
    – ЯegDwight
    Aug 24, 2017 at 10:26

It may be very much pertinent that they had been watching a number of videos and Ann failed to decide which one. In this context the last sentence with indefinite article is very much correct. But if meticulously considered, the sentence is pinpointing the video shown ten minutes earlier. This answer by Tom must be qualified by any other sentence or demonstrative phrase. Otherwise you cannot use the sentence as it is now. Just use:

  • That's it.
  • That one.
  • I like that.

Somehow you have to define it. It is not always necessary to use definite article exclusively. Context can decide on its own and your rendering.

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