Imagine me staying in a room and I have you on the phone and say to you that it has a window. I know that it has only one window but still choose the indefinite article 'a' because I'm not going to emphasize that there is only one window in the room even though it's indeed so. Moreover, I don't even think of the quantity at all.

And so you're not supposed to think about it too. It might be only one window, you do not know. The possibility remains open.

If I were to emphasize the fact that the window is one and only, I would state that out. Like we're not going to rent it, it has only one window.

And saying 'The room has the window' isn't natural, but 'The room has the black window' is fine because then you know that the room contains ONLY one black window but it may also have a white one. There's no restriction on white windows, only on black ones.

All the confusion is because of this: That's a program which I use", we know that this is only one of several programs which they use so I decided that I can't use the indefinite article 'a' to describe a room with only one window saying 'a window' because that would mean one of several windows.

  • Re: "'The room has the black window' is fine": No, it isn't -- not unless you've previously mentioned a black window, and are only now identifying which room has it. (And if that is the case, then it could well be that the room also contains other black windows.)
    – ruakh
    Oct 19, 2019 at 23:34
  • 1
    (I should also mention, by the way, that "black window" is not a common phrase at all, and I'm not sure quite what you mean by it. But that's not really relevant to the grammar.)
    – ruakh
    Oct 19, 2019 at 23:36

1 Answer 1


Yes, saying "the room has a window" does not rule out the possibility of more than one. We say this sort of thing all the time. Like if I say, "Yesterday I met a tall man", no one would take that to mean that the man I am talking about is the only tall man in the world.

I think you're confusion is one I've heard from people learning English before. "The" does NOT mean "the only one in the world" or even "the only one in this particular time and place", and "a" means "one of many". "The" means "the one I have specified earlier in this context", or sometimes "the one implied by this context".

It is quite common to refer to something as "a" when you first identify it, and from that point on, now that it has been identified, to refer to it as "the". For example, "There is a window in my room. I looked out the window and saw a green car." Do you see what I did there? In the first sentence, it is "a window", because I have not yet identified a specific window. But that sentence identifies this as the particular window that I am talking about, so from there on (in this conversation) it is "the window".

Yes, if there is only one of something in the universe, or only one that I could be referring to in this context, we may refer to it as "the" from go. "I live on the Earth." There's only one Earth, so I don't need to identify which one. "I met the president." There's only one president. Well, there's only one president of my country at any given time. Etc.

So usually we don't refer to something as "the" on first mention unless it's the only one I could possibly be referring to.

Now here it gets tricky. We say, "My room has a window." There are many windows in the world, and my room has (at least) one. Or I could say, "My room has a window. I looked out the window and saw a green car." As I said earlier. I could also establish the context and therefore identify the particular window in one sentence. "I looked out the window of my room and saw a green car." By saying "of my room", I narrow down the list of windows I might be talking about to just those in my room. If my room has only one, then it is "the window". If I said, "I looked out a window of my room and saw a green car", that implies that my room has more than one window, because I've established a context, "my room", but I still say "a", implying that there are other windows that I could have talked about in that context.

You would NOT say, "The room has the black window" unless you had previously identified a particular black window that you were talking about. Like you could say, "There is one black window in my house. My bedroom has the black window." But if you began a conversation by saying, "My room has the black window", the natural response of the listener would be to ask, "Which black window? What do you mean?"

If you want to specify that a room has only one window, you could say, "This room has only one window."

  • You're a genius! My confusion was due to thinking that I can't say ''The room has a window" if it has one and only. (I was only paying attention to the examples like yours, which is ''I looked out the window of my room and saw a green car.'' But It doesn't work like that in the first mention ("My room has a window."). Oct 19, 2019 at 17:53
  • 1) I have a daughter. 2) That's a daughter which I have. The second example means you have more than one, the first one doesn't! That was my confusion. The first example only means that of all the daughters in the world you have AT LEAST one! Oct 19, 2019 at 18:27

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