Every time I ask Siri to

set the timer for X minutes

I get corrected with

set a timer for X minutes

I consulted some tech sites, they seem to agree on "a timer". At least, I didn't find any "the timer" questions.

Hey Siri, start a timer for 15 minutes.

Say something like "Set a timer for 20 minutes."

I don't understand why, though.

I've got a phone (my phone, the phone I am possessing), I've installed some software on it (the applications I find handy and use on a daily basis), there are some pre-installed programs running on it (the applications provided out of the box). Being perfectly aware of the timer feature, I am asking Siri to launch it. To launch the timer, not a timer. To set the timer, not a timer.

Where am I wrong?

Feel free to correct any mistakes. I'd be utterly grateful if you cleared up my confusion.


Yes, I understand that other words (including articles) around "timer" and "X minutes" don't play a big role, and they won't even be taken into consideration after parsing the keywords.

But corrections/replies from Siri like

Setting a timer for X minutes...

A timer is already running.

bring ambiguity and are totally confusing to me.

I am absolutely sure my iPhone is well aware of the processes it initiated (the applications it ran) X minutes ago.

The timer (from the Clock app/the one I can run) is already running.

Setting the timer (the timer installed in the Clock program/the one I have access to/the one I can set).

  • Well, you’re not wrong. The iPhone only has one timer. “Set the timer” is perfectly right. Set “a timer” is more abstract. The iPhone will set “a timer” — the only one it has. Either one is correct. Apr 21, 2019 at 19:41
  • By using the keyword 'timer' you make Siri use the Clock app, which has only one timer, but if you instead say 'Remind me [something] in ten minutes' you use the Reminders app, which can have any number of times events. Apr 21, 2019 at 19:55
  • 2
    You could say set the timer app for 5 minutes, but you're not. In this case, timer is being used in the same way as a countdown, an event, a reminder, or a calendar entry. It's something new that's being created each time, not something preexisting. No doubt Siri can create multiple timers too. So, you're talking about one of many. So, you would set one timer for 5 minutes, and another timer for 20 minutes, for instance. It's describing something virtual. Apr 21, 2019 at 20:40
  • 1
    @JasonBassford The problem is Siri can't create multiple timers. "A timer is already running. Would you like to replace it?" Apr 21, 2019 at 20:57
  • 1
    If only one so-called timer can be created, I'd call that a deficiency in the software, not in the language that's being used. If you had a physical device that only acted as a timer (the famous egg timer for instance), and which was either off or currently counting down its one and only set time, then the timer would make sense. But I see nothing wrong with a timer in this context—even if the software has some kind of limitation built into it. Apr 22, 2019 at 4:56

1 Answer 1


When you say

set the timer for X minutes

you know what timer you are talking about. But from the point of view of Siri, it is not very clear what you have in mind.

First, the device already uses a lot of timers which you know nothing about. They are set, reset, incremented, decremented, stopped all the time, without your knowledge.

Second, timers can be implemented by several programs. It is even possible that every (or some) programs are able to set more than 1 timer.

Therefore, it is much better to talk "generically" and use "a timer":

set a timer for X minutes

  • if "the timer" is not very clear for Siri, how could "a timer" be clearer? Apr 22, 2019 at 8:57
  • I think "generically" is better, I edited.
    – virolino
    Apr 22, 2019 at 9:02
  • "a timer" gives Siri a chance to find the best solution for your need. It will assume that you need a generic timer for your personal purpose, and that decision is what you most likely want. If you use "the", then Siri has many alternatives, of which only one is correct - but it cannot decide which one.
    – virolino
    Apr 22, 2019 at 9:04
  • Then "a timer" should raise questions about "which timer/which application to run", but it doesn't. Apr 22, 2019 at 9:09
  • There is some default application for timing purposes, providing features such as alarm, countdowns, timers... Siri will use that. If there is no default such application, Siri will probably ask you to choose one.
    – virolino
    Apr 22, 2019 at 9:12

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