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When I searched google for a sentence “sports have a power to unite people”, I found only a few examples writing so.

However, why is “sports have the power to unite people” being more commonly used? I think ‘the power of words’ is also more general than ‘a power of words’.

I wonder where I should use the words, ‘a power’.

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As I say in my answer here, the definite article ("the") has many uses:

  • it can refer to things that are unique (While in Egypt, I saw the pyramids.)
  • it can make a generalized reference to something (The fastest mammal is the cheetah.)
  • with an adjective, can refer to a group of people (This is a good time to help the poor.)
  • to indicate that there is enough of something (She will make an omelet, if she has the eggs.)

I think that, in your example, I think it's that last meaning being used. After all, your sentence could be paraphrased like this:

Sports have enough power to unite people.

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  • I didn't know the fourth meaning. Very interesting. It surely makes sense. Thank you so much! – Olivia Dec 14 '17 at 8:25
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If there were many powers to unite people, then "a power" would be correct.

Being able to unite people is a power. It is only one power. So there is only one power to unite people. It is the power to unite people.

EDIT: @J.R. is correct that there can be many powers to unite people. Let's list some of them:

  • Empathy
  • Motivational speeches
  • Leading by example
  • Being a mascot
  • Making really cool uniforms

If someone has one of those powers then I can say he has a power to unite people. You could ask which one and I might say he has the power to lead by example.

But there are many ways to lead by example! You could - Boldly confront bullies - Be the first person to volunteer - Show concern for other people

So instead of saying he has the power to lead by example, I could also say he has **a* power to lead by example.

Looking again at uniting people, the fact that someone have a power to unite people also means that the person has the power to unite people. It all depends on how you list the power or powers.

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  • So it’s not the difference that ‘a power’ sounds more polite than ‘the power’? I have no idea which is correct. Perhaps both? – Olivia Dec 13 '17 at 8:53
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    It is confusing because compared to other nouns, "power" is a bit strange. It can be countable or uncountable. When it is countable - how do you define a single power? It is hard to define and hard to explain. But the answer is 'Yes, you can use "a power" or "the power" in this instance'. It changes the meaning slightly, but not in way that really matters. – Readin Dec 13 '17 at 10:19
  • Well, so actually it’s a slight difference but certainly there is a difference. I thank everyone for teaching me a lot. – Olivia Dec 13 '17 at 11:36
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    I don't think this answer hits the nail on the head. There are many powers, and there are many powers that can unite people. People can be united by the power of a common cause, or by the power of rousing speech or a moving song. – J.R. Dec 13 '17 at 16:16
  • @J.R. I added some text because you are right. I didn't have time to go into details earlier. – Readin Dec 17 '17 at 1:30

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