Which article should I use in the question below?

A) Who is the girl with the umbrella?

B) Who is the girl with an umbrella?


4 Answers 4


The is used for specific thing while a/an is used for any random one.

If the umbrella is a specific one, you will use "The".
If it's any umbrella, then use "An".

To make sure, is the girl to be recognized because of a special umbrella? (Perhaps it's stolen from someone, or a very famous one etc? Maybe you were just talking about the umbrella?)
If yes, use THE. If no, it's just a common one, use An.


Obviously the fact that the questioner says the girl means we know both he and his audience are talking about a specific girl. But the idea that we must therefore also use a definite article to reference umbrella is just simplistic thinking that doesn't help non-native speakers understand how English is really used by native speakers. Consider these results from Google Books...

1: Who is the man wearing the...? - 418 hits
2: Who is the man wearing a...? - 4 hits
3: Who is that man wearing the...? - 3 hits
4: Who is that man wearing a...? - 10 hits

What I think this shows is that we naturally tend to repeat the definite article in the "purest, simplest" context #1 - but this is more to do with parallel structure and consistency / "laziness" (why switch articles when you can just repeat the one you just used?).

Examples #3, #4 are just as much about a particular man as #1, #2. But because the "particularizing" article is that rather than the, we don't tend to repeat it. In principle it would be perfectly valid to ask Who is that man wearing that hat?, but in practice we wouldn't usually repeat that "determiner".

There are many contexts where definite / indefinite article really are completely interchangeable and have exactly the same meaning - which would amost always be the case for OP's specific example text. But for a fine nuance that most native speakers would agree does meaningfully exist (even if they wouldn't unfailingly observe the distinction themselves), consider...

5: Where is the man with a bad leg?
6: Where is the man with the bad leg?

...where I suggest the definitive article (#6) places more emphasis on the bad leg. It's not relevant that the man sought has only one bad leg, nor is the choice of article likely to be affected by whether his bad leg is the only one among the assembled people. But there could still be a difference affecting article choice.

If the speaker specifically wanted to find that person because of his bad leg (perhaps he's a doctor, and has some advice to offer), he'd more likely use the slightly more "emphatically particularizing" definite article in #6. Whereas if it was just a convenient way of identifying the person he's looking for, he'd be just as likely to use the indefinite article as in #5.


Both definite and indefinite article before umbrella are fine in OP's context, and in practice they would usually be completely interchangeable. But it would be odd to ask *Who is a girl wearing [whatever]?, so usually the context will already have introduced one instance of the definite article, and we naturally tend to repeat it.

It's not really about referencing a "specific" or "generic" instance of [umbrella, hat,...] at all. Mostly it's about repeating patterns, which are simply easier.


Definitely the first one.

The first thing @BellaSwan said was right - "The is used for specific thing while a/an is used for any random one."

In your sentence, you're using that particular umbrella to identify the girl your talking about, presumably there are more girls but only one has an umbrella...

So it would be "Who is the girl with THE umbrella?"

Now if you were asking if there was one, it would be an...

"IS there are girl with AN umbrella?"

  • I think you meant to write: "Is there any girl with an umbrella?" Mar 21, 2019 at 13:28

Imagining myself on the street and asking this kind of question, either of the two sentences sounds good.

Of course, in a different context, one article or the other may suit better.

I might even ask:

Who is the girl with umbrella?

using the zero article (i.e. missing ann article). It might not be the most correct (please help, native speakers), but it really puts the umbrella in the "irrelevant" place - concentrating the question on the girl.

  • Native speakers would never drop the article for an object like this.
    – Jesse
    Mar 21, 2019 at 18:29

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