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A little while ago I was scrolling through my friend's Instagram & it seemed to me that one of her photos' description could be grammatically incorrect a bit.

The description is

"Today I saw the person who taught me to speak English..."

Right away I realized that I would go with "a person" not "the person" in that case.

(Quick facts: we are both Russians, and we don't have the articles in our language, so it's more or less expected that we might have some problems when it comes to put an article in the sentence.)

So, she writes about a friend (a person) of her. She does it the very first time in the context. Thus it seems pretty obvious to me to put "a" over "the".

On the other hand, theoretically the person the author talks about might be the only person in the author's life that was successful to teach the author to speak English. Is it then correct to go with 'the' in that case?

And last thing, I know that, for example, programmers and their managers use 'the user' all the times. They, as I suggest, just want to emphasize the importance of their users to them. According to that, I still think that if she wanted to emphasize the importance of the person she talked about, then she had to go with something like "Today I saw that person who taught me..."

P.S. To be honest, even though I think that 'a' is the correct one here, I'm pretty sure that an English teacher of mine would treat my 'a' as a mistake.


Since it's not 100% clear for me I'm adding some:

  1. I know the author in the real life. She studied English at school, she's doing it at university. So it's obvious there have been persons who taught her English. According to that and the James K's clarification he left under

I saw a person that taught me English

I still do guess that she was wrong & she had to use 'a'. So, she saw one of that persons that taught her.

  1. She (author) wanted to express that the person she talked about was the only one from whom she really learnt how to speak English. The thing is in Russian we have two words учить and научить. Unfortunately, as far as I know, they both are translated to English as 'to teach', while the second one (научить) implies that the person you taught has completely understood what you taught one, i.e. the person completely learnt the lesson. And if she meant that, she had to express it in other way, not the way she did it, because it does not express what she really meant.
  • Your friend's sentence is correct, if there was (mainly) one person who taught her. As for "the user" that's a generic term, not a particular user. – Weather Vane Sep 21 at 20:11
  • @WeatherVane Thank you for the answer. Do not you think that if there was one person who taught her, then it is (at least) a bit more common to go with that over the? – Ivan Sep 21 at 20:14
  • No, I don't think so. But if you have been talking about someone, you might say "oh there is that person." – Weather Vane Sep 21 at 20:15
  • @WeatherVane Ok, then 'Today I saw a person who taught me to speak English...' would be incorrect in the given context? – Ivan Sep 21 at 20:18
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    We are going round in circles. You saw the person who taught you. – Weather Vane Sep 21 at 20:44
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I saw the person that taught me English

This implies that there is just one person who taught her English. As this person is unique, and fully determined by the sentence, it is correct to use "the".

I saw a person that taught me English

This second sentence implies that there were many people that taught her English, and she saw one of them. It means "person that taught me English" does not identify a single person, so the person is not determined by the sentence. If you had more than one English teacher, this would be correct. If you had one teacher and you said "I saw a person that taught me English" you are not expressing the correct meaning as this sentence implies that there must be several English teachers.

  • Does I saw the person that taught me English mean that there has been only one teacher ever who tried to teach her? Or I saw the person that taught me English might express that there has been many people that tried to teach her, but the only one she talks about was successful to do that, so the author really learnt something. – Ivan Sep 22 at 11:20
  • I know the author in the real life, she did English at school, she's doing it at university. I'm 99% sure that she tried to say that there has been a lot of teachers (it's obvious), but there was one and only one from whom the author could learn how to speak English, while from the others she just studied. – Ivan Sep 22 at 11:23
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    It says what it says "the person who taught me English" . It means there is one person uniquely determined by the property "they taught me English". It doesn't say that there aren't other people who tried. It does say that there aren't other people who taught French. It just says "There is one person who taught me English and I saw that person". But honestly I'm just repeating myself. I don't think I can explain any more or any differently. Yes, articles are difficult, but this is not a difficult situation. – James K Sep 22 at 15:49
  • I have just got back to this question and try to understand your answer one more time, and I realized that This second sentence implies that there were many people that taught her English, and she saw one of them. is the point. In my second comment under your answer I clarified what she tried to imply, and it fits the clarification you left under I saw a person that taught me English. – Ivan Sep 29 at 10:26

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