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How can I decide which one to choose?

The experiment achieves a high rate of detection with very low error margin.

The experiment achieves the high rate of detection with very low error margin.

Why would you choose one over the other?

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  • As a standalone sentence, the second one has no reference. Which high rate of detection is it talking about? Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 20:23

1 Answer 1

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The decision whether to use a or the depends on whether the word (or phrase) it proceeds is already meaningful or known to your reader.

Take a simple example. To say:

I saw a dog chasing a cat
tells you only that an unspecified dog was chasing an unspecified cat.

But if you knew your neighbour was looking for her tabby cat, you might say:

I saw a dog chasing the cat
because the cat has already been identified.

And if you knew that it was the neighbour's dog chasing the cat, you might say:

I saw the/your dog chasing the/your cat
because both animals have been identified. That's to say, we know which animals are being talked about.

In your examples, unless you have previous referred to the rate of detection, you need to say:

The experiment achieves a high rate of detection.....
and it would read better if you inserted a before low error margin.
The experiment achieves a high rate of detection with a very low error margin.

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  • Can I use 'the' if I provide a citation to the source before taking about rate of detection? E.g. In the experiment [citation], their defense mechanism achieves the high rate of detection. But, using 'a' sounds more natural to me.
    – user92131
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 5:01
  • @user92131 Because the citation would not be part of the grammatical construction of the sentence, a would still be more appropriate. Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 9:42

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