John [seeing Anthony and Barbara on a sidewalk]
John: Hi, guys. Good evening!
Barbara: Good evening. How're things going?
John: Never been better. I've just finished my gym class an hour ago. What about you guys?
Barbara: We have planted some roses in a garden.
John: Which one? The East Park?
Barbara: Yeah, that one.

I've made that dialog up, and now I wonder that
do I have to change that article "a" to "the"? Or I can leave it like that?

  • 2
    I'd say it draws attention to garden as new information. It strikes me as slightly unexpected, but not wrong. It fits with the following question asked by John. What I would do is remove the perfect auxiliary have, along with its cliticized friend 've.
    – user230
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 22:24
  • 1
    Not only do I agree with @snailboat that Barbara's response should not use the present perfect (but rather the simple past), but I'd go further to say that the contracted I've in John's preceding line is not only uncalled for, but it's completely wrong. You should either change that to read I've just finished my gym class. or I finished my gym class an hour ago. If you use a reference to a specific point in time in the same sentence, then it should be in the simple past tense. Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 21:04

1 Answer 1


Believe it or not, such a tiny change makes a big difference. In this case, it's a, but that's an uncommon use. It's not at all incorrect though.

Most people mean to say planted some roses in the (my/our) garden.

That means that this person planted some roses in their garden, or in a specific garden that these particular speakers could mutually refer to as the garden, like, say, a community or church garden for example. It's more likely the former.

When you say planted some rose in a garden, you mean that you just planted flowers in some unspecified, random, or generic garden.

It's not at all incorrect to use the indefinite article as I've done in the above sentence, if that is in fact what you mean; but, as I've said, it's an uncommon usage, especially given the context.

I'd probably revise it. But if you do, you'd have to end the dialog at that point, as the rest would be unnecessary.

  • Suppose that there are more than one community gardens nearby (I believe that it is possible in some country, maybe Germany), can I still use "the garden"? Or in this multiple community gardens case, I need to use "a garden"? Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 20:55
  • 1
    Yes you can! If you were to do that, that would still make the last lines relevant because, the garden is still generic, even though it refers to a specific garden. If that's what you mean, then go with the. If the person were referring to something known, the last lines would obviously be uncalled for Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 20:57
  • 1
    I agreed with you up to the last sentence. If someone referred to "the garden", that indicates they have one particular garden in mind. But someone listening does not necessarily know what garden that is, and so might reasonably ask "The garden? Which garden?" Now if earlier in the conversation they had said something that would make clear which garden they were referring to, that would be different. Like, "We were at Bob's house." "Oh, what were you doing there?" "We planted roses in the garden." The clear inference then would be that "the garden" refers to the garden at Bob's house. ...
    – Jay
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 22:01
  • ... I suppose it's possible that Bob's house has more than one garden. Etc.
    – Jay
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 22:01
  • 2
    @Jay Normally, if someone were to say What did you do today?, and I'd responded with something like I planted flowers in the garden, the other party would assume that I planted them in my garden, even if they didn't know I had one. That's just common parlance in the US. Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 22:05

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