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I'm drafting a letter of invitation for someone. And one sentence goes: "I am [the / an] owner of a bookstore" - which article shall I use?

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    While either is correct, they have a different feel to me somehow. I don't have a clear grammatical reason for this, but my intuition with hearing the owner is that the conversation will be about the you, however hearing an owner I would expect the following conversation to be about the store. Perhaps it has something to do with specificity... maybe someone else can elaborate / debunk. – brichins Jun 28 at 3:54
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    The simplest solution: "I own a bookstore." – alephzero Jun 28 at 10:44
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    @brichins, oddly enough, my instinct is exactly the other way around. :-) – Harry Johnston Jun 29 at 0:02
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If the bookstore you own has only one owner (you), then, "I am the owner of a bookstore." is correct.

If there are other owners of that bookstore (i.e. you are a co-owner), then you should say, "I am an owner of a bookstore."

The indefinite article, "a" is for one among other(s), and the definite article "the" is for naming one when there are no others.

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    Although an can also be used if you're the only owner too. "I am an owner of a bookstore, among other owners of bookstores" – Smock Jun 27 at 15:28
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    @Smock Good point, but I think "I am a bookstore owner" would be more natural in that case. – Acccumulation Jun 27 at 15:53
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    @Smock However, that one is much more dependent on context. You can only say that you're the bookstore, if there's an implied bookstore (for example by standing inside it while saying it, or mentioning the bookstore earlier). Without an implied specific bookstore, there is definitely more than one owner, so then you can't say the owner. – Jasper Jun 28 at 8:00
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    @Erbureth Yes. There are lots of bookstores in the world. I am only talking about one of them, so it is "a" bookstore. But it only has one owner (me), so I am "the" owner of "a" bookstore. Just like "the governor of a state" makes sense, or "the roots of a tree", "the wings of a dove", etc. – Lorel C. Jun 28 at 13:47
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    "Dear Ms. Le Guin, my name is Paul, and I am the owner of the bookstore, and I would like to let you know that your books are very popular." Would that make sense to the recipient of that letter? Wouldn't Ms. L G say, "the bookstore?...What bookstore?" – Lorel C. Jun 28 at 14:50
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It depends on context.

If you are talking about a particular bookstore then it depends on whether you are the sole owner or a part owner. If you are the only owner of that bookstore:

I am the owner of a bookstore

if you and other people jointly own it:

I am an owner of a bookstore

These fragments would likely then contain more specific information about that particular bookstore, for example: I am the owner of a bookstore located in Main Street ...

If you are talking about yourself:

I am an owner of a bookstore

This is correct if you are the sole owner. If you and other people jointly own it, you would say something like: I am a part-owner of a bookstore. In this case the remainder of the sentence would likely contain information about you, for example: I am an owner of a bookstore who thinks small businesses are unfairly taxed.

  • Agree. It would depend on if the name of the bookstore is already mentioned prior to the sentence in the question. – Kentaro Tomono Jun 28 at 6:53
  • For instance, if the OP already mentioned before the sentence in the question, like, "Well there is a bookstore called XXXXX on the street YYYY in a city ZZZZ", then "I am the owner of the bookstore", but if the OP only says "Hello, TTTT" I think "I am an owner of a bookstore" sounds fine to me. – Kentaro Tomono Jun 28 at 7:01
  • @KentaroTomono correct. I didn't add variants based on whether the bookstore should have a definite or indefinite article as OP was only interested in the article before 'owner'. – mcalex Jun 28 at 8:35
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    In British English, at least, If you are the sole owner, it should be "I am the owner of a bookstore", and if you own it jointly, either "one of the owners" or "part-owner" or perhaps just "the owner" if the co-ownership doesn't really matter in context. Using "an owner" is not idiomatic, IMO. – Harry Johnston Jun 28 at 22:38
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    @Kentaro, yes, it may be one of those things that varies from place to place, I probably shouldn't have said anything. At any rate, the example sentence in the post above, "I am an owner of a bookstore who thinks small businesses are unfairly taxed." definitely isn't wrong, it just sounds a bit awkward. In some cases there might not be any better way to put it. – Harry Johnston Jun 29 at 0:01
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If you introduce yourself by mentioning your occupation (what I am):

I am an engineer.

A step towards your example:

I am a bookstore owner.

The article 'a' above defines the noun 'owner'. Next step (considering it's still about your occupation, not a particular store):

I am an owner of a bookstore.

  • "I am a POTUS"? – Cœur Jun 28 at 8:22
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    @Cœur: "I am a president, but I am the POTUS". "a" applies in cases where the designation is not uniquely identifiable. There is more than one bookstore owner in the world. There is more than one president. There is only one POTUS, unless you are speaking historically in which case "a POTUS" is vaild. E.g. Is there a POTUS who smoked cigars in the Oval Office? – Flater Jun 28 at 8:43
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    @Cœur "I was a POTUS" or "I am a former POTUS" or "I want to be a POTUS when I grow up" are perfectly OK. This is different from the bookstore, because at any moment in time there can only be one POTUS, so the indefinite article isn't appropriate when referring to the present time. – alephzero Jun 28 at 10:42
  • You go wrong with your next step. I am one of many bookstore owners, so "a" is correct, as you say. However, in your third example, the article in question goes before "owner of a bookstore", so the choice of article depends on whether or not you are the sole owner of whichever bookstore you are talking about. Your second and third examples differ in that in this third one you are now talking about the store as well as yourself. So if you are its sole owner, you need "I am the owner of a bookstore". – Rosie F Jun 28 at 14:35
  • I think it depends on context. If you introduce yourself in that invitation letter with intention to show your bookstore, the fact you own the whole shop matters; it doesn't matter if you introduce yourself before inviting a lady to the theatre. – Alex_ander Jun 28 at 15:12
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Like most things, it depends on context.

As most of the other answers have pointed out, if you are the only owner of the bookstore, you'd normally say "I'm the owner of a bookstore." If you jointly owned it, you'd normally say "I'm an owner of a bookstore." Having said that, most people you're talking to probably don't care whether you're a sole owner or joint owner, so "I'm the owner of a bookstore" is mostly going to be OK even if there are other owners. Most of the time, all you need to do is linking the concepts of "I", "bookstore" and "owner".

But there are also cases where you might use "an owner", even if you're the only one. Suppose, for example, that you wanted to go to a trade fair for bookstore owners. At the door, the security guard says to you, "I'm sorry only bookstore owners can come in." You might respond "But I am an owner of a bookstore!" The point here is that you're saying you're a member of the category "bookstore owners" and you're not the only member of that category, so "a" is more appropriate. Even in this case, "But I am the owner of a bookstore!" would be fine – you're focusing on your bookstore, rather than bookstores in general, and the meaning is still "I own a bookstore, so let me in."

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