I read this post so I understood why we need an article in the sentence

What do you do for a living?

My question is why we use a living not the living, since we are asking certain somebody, shouldn't we use the instead of a?


There are many possible 'livings' - i.e., professions, vocations, jobs. So I have 'a living', not 'the living'.

living (MW, noun definition 2)

means of subsistence : livelihood

  • Still confused, I know what exactly I do for a living, shouldn't I say I have the living? – Ives Jul 27 '18 at 1:40
  • 2
    @Ives, this might just be a case where the normal grammatical rules don't match how the word has come to be used. "The living" is a phrase used to describe the collection of people who are alive. People might say, "I make my living doing XYZ." to refer to their own specific source of livelihood. Otherwise, it is treated as an example of livelihoods, and "a" is used. – fixer1234 Jul 27 '18 at 7:39
  • @Ives I know exactly what kind of car I own, but I don't say "I have the car"... – John Feltz Jul 27 '18 at 11:18
  • @JohnFeltz yes, this is why I'm confused. I thought I should use the when something is specific. – Ives Jul 28 '18 at 9:34
  • "I have a car." (out of many cars in the world) "The car I own is green." "The green car over there is mine." – John Feltz Jul 28 '18 at 15:42

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