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Is there a difference between a and the in the following context? As an English speaker do they both sound natural?

What is a/the computer?

  • A/the computer is an automatic electronic machine that convert raw data into useful information.

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The difference is pretty much nonexistent.

A would be used in response to the question What's a computer?, simply because of maintaining parallelism. (It's very unlikely anybody would ask What's the computer?)

The might be used when the statement is simply volunteered unasked for. Or it could actually be discussing a specific, identified computer. (However, that's doubtful given the general meaning of what comes after.)

In both cases, it's likely that computer is being used in a general, non-specific way, without any sense of a countable noun.


However, it's probably more common to use neither version, instead phrasing it in the plural:

Computers are automatic electronic machines that convert raw data into useful information.

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