In both cases, it's some specific absence/lack. Why should I use the definite article with the former and the indefinite article with the latter?

  • 1
    You can have an absence of something too, and the lack of something. Probably depends on context.
    – Smock
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 15:03
  • It's partly purely idiomatic. I would say I have a lack of funds, but I can't imagine ever saying I have the lack of funds, which sounds simply bizarre. Mainly, it's because a lack of funds is the phrase that's always used; whereas, in that particular sentence, the lack of funds is never used. (Despite the fact that,in reality, I actually would be referring to a specific and current state of lacking funds.) Anybody following rules of grammar would expect the to be used. But it isn't in this case. Because English is often illogical. Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 1:51

1 Answer 1


First of all, they don't mean the same:

  • "Absence" always means that something is not there.

  • "Lack" can mean that something is absent, but can also mean a shortage, or a deficiency.

Secondly, you can use either the definite or indefinite article with both words. This example is in the Cambridge dictionary:

The business was suffering from an absence of an overall plan for moving forward.

See also this example for "lack" with the definite article:

The local residents were angry at the lack of parking spaces.

The use of either the definite or indefinite article is determined by whether or not you can point to a single lack or absence.

For example, if a shop received a delivery of cakes every day, but one day the delivery did not arrive, they might say they "have a lack of cakes". It isn't the lack, because it isn't the only lack of cakes - it may have happened before, it may happen again, and it may happen elsewhere. However, if you were speaking about that specific cake shop on that specific day, you might say "I'm annoyed about the lack* of cakes in the shop today". This is because you have identified a specific lack so the definite article is required.

  • Who said those mean the same? Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 10:23
  • @SergeyZolotarev You said "in both cases, it's some specific absence/lack" so I felt the need to be clear from the start they don't mean the same. You're comparing apples and oranges.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 10:28
  • No, I'm not. I just said that both cases are — to me — specific because of the 'of' parts. The fact that they are semantically similar ("absence" is basically the same as "lack" but brought to the absolute, if it's a regular English) just emphasizes that it's not perfectly logical (at first sight, at least) Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 10:48
  • That Grammarly gizmo can't help underlining with red anything stat starts with 'an absence of'. So that's partly the reason why I asked this question Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 10:51
  • @SergeyZolotarev Asking questions here gets you answers from native English speakers like myself that ought to be more reliable than Grammarly, which is just highlighting possible errors.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 11:02

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