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The \ a decision to change the government has been taken.

1) which article should I use?

Earlier this year, with the help of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, we reached a decision to expand our study and start putting rubbish back into particular areas of the harbour.

2) The above sentence is copied from an IELTS book. I wonder why "a decision" is written instead of "the decision" as it is specific ("expanding our study and start putting rubbish back into particular areas of the harbour.")

We use the whenever the noun is specific, even if it is first time mentioned, don't we? For example: "a decision about my live" is general, the decision in this case can be anything so we use "a". My example confusing me because it is a specific action and a specific decision, there is only one probability which is putting the rubbish over there. I still don't know how this decision in this context can be considered general.

  • Maybe you can add more context for the sentence (full paragraph/link to the question?). From what I understand, 'a decision' can be used when the decision is reached arbitrarily/capriciously/on a whim or when it wants to emphasize the singular 'a decision'. Usually, this 'a' is used in the beginning paragraph. If you use 'the decision', you will need a reference to which 'the decision' is based on. – Flonne Nov 16 '18 at 21:16
  • And no, this "decision" doesn't refer to the "start putting rubbish back into particular areas of the harbour". This "decision" needs to be established on previous sentence(s) or when the reader/hearer knows beforehand what you're talking about , in this case, the decision. – Flonne Nov 16 '18 at 21:22
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The sentence you posted: Earlier this year, with the help of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, we reached a decision to expand our study and start putting rubbish back into particular areas of the harbour.

In your sentence, the word decision is a general, first-time mention of the word. It's a decision because it is not something else: an initiative etc.

A general statement in English often calls for using the determiner a. The statement might run like this:

  • I like an apple before going to bed.

In fact, the statements below also are like that. - He likes a glass of milk in the afternoon.

- They enjoy a swim in the early evening.

- They made a crucial decision last night.

Now, the minute you say something else about all those general statements in the same text or speech, the a becomes the.

For example, if they continue to talk about that decision, it would become the decision.

[...] we reached a decision to expand our study and start putting rubbish back into particular areas of the harbour. The decision was hard to make.

So, a generality in English runs from a in the first mention of it to the at the second mention.

Think about this, too: I say to you: I have made a decision. You say: About what? I say: I have made a decision about my life. You say: Was the decision a difficult one?

What was general is now specific, and the conversation will now revolved about the decision, which has been specified.

  • We use the whenever the noun is specific, even if it is first time mentioned, don't we? latest example you have given "a decision about my live" is general, it can be anything so we use "a". My example confusing me because it is a specific action and a specific decision, there is only one probability which is putting the rubbish over there. I still don't know how this decision in this context can be considered general. – Costa Nov 17 '18 at 7:32
  • This isn't generally true though, is it? Even if you never talked about the decision you can use "the" at its first occurrence. "It took us a long time but we have finally reached the decision to sell our house." I don't think in that particular case you can even use 'a'. Consider also "I've finally taken the plunge." "What plunge?" "I've proposed." (actually that's a bad example as it's an idiom I think) – DRF Dec 7 '18 at 15:16
  • @Costa "a decision about my life" (careful with the spelling of 'life') IS a specific decision, it's just that it hasn't been described yet in the text / to the listener, and that's why it requires "a" and not "the". Compare "I have made a decision. I'm going to ...<specifics>" and "I have made the decision to...<specifics>". In the first, using "the" would be wrong, but in the second both "a" and "the" can be used because the specifics come right away. Your example is also such a borderline case. – neotryte Dec 11 '18 at 16:14
  • @DRF Where did I say that "the" as a first instance is not sometimes correct? Where? One cannot explain every single use of "the" and "a" each time a question is asked about them, can one? It would take a book. If you do not open your mind, you will never get it. Sorry, that is just the truth. "The decision about my life I took last year, etc." versus "A decision to buy a new car was hard.". You have to feel it the difference. Using "a" for non-specific situations can be confusing to non-native speakers. "Make a wish upon a star"... – Lambie Dec 12 '18 at 16:14
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Lambie's post covers the use of a decision quite thoroughly. I just want to shed some light on the difference. Choice of a vs the would depend on the context. Both are grammatically sound and semantically (almost) identical: with only subtle different in emphasis.

John: When did the company decide to lay off more workers?

Anna: During the last AGM, the decision was made to reduce labour cost by 10%.

John specifically asks about a particular decision, so Anna replies with information on the decision.

John: Why is the company laying off people?

Anna: During the last AGM, a decision was made to reduce labour cost by 10%.

John is not specifically referring to any decision in his question. He has a general question, the answer to which requires Anna to talk about a decision.

The shift on emphasis is very subtle. One can interchangeably use the and a in these sentences. The makes the decision the centre of the sentence, while a makes it just a thing that happened in the narrative.

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"a decision" may sound better only because people have seemingly spoken this way in everyday life. However, I think "the decision" is more logical, as you are talking about a specific, particular choice that was made.

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