Some time ago a native English speaker said to me that

That is the tool which I use to edit video

Means the person uses only this tool and

That is a tool which I use to edit video

Means the person uses not only the tool under discussion, which is merely one of them

So I supposed that

The central concern appears to be around a perceived lack of accountability and a belief that youth crime rates in Canada are increasing.

would, therefore, mean there is more that one such belief but that's impossible because I shrank down the number of possible beliefs to just this one (using the part right after the word 'belief'). Please, someone, explain this phenomenon.

Perhaps I'm supposed to get rid of the rest of the sentence if an indefinite article is used and think the following: of all the beliefs in the World there is one, and then name it using a clause. But that's not in alignment with the second example.

  • "I took off a pair of shoes that I bought in the UK." Means you bought more than one pair of shoes, at least two." No it doesn't. It means that you took off two shoes, and those shoes were purchased in the UK. Nothing more. Additional (now missing) context may have restricted the meaning further, but the statement by itself could be used in a broad range of possible scenarios.
    – Adam
    Jan 7, 2020 at 6:51
  • I edited the examples to be more specific. Jan 7, 2020 at 6:56
  • If you say that the meaning might have been restricted by that I bought in the UK, but it wasn't, then how to say that a pair of shoes which you just took off was one of the pairs which you bought in the UK? Jan 7, 2020 at 7:04
  • 1
    @user105719 "I took off a pair of shoes that I bought in the UK." of all the pairs in the world I took off one of them. I bought it in the UK. "I took off the pair of shoes WHICH I bought in the UK." I took off this exact pair and you know I bought only one pair of shoes visiting the UK, right? Jan 7, 2020 at 8:36
  • A small amount of searching and a smaller amount of thought leads me to believe that a restrictive relative clause is incompatible with an indefinite article, so your first example is correct: you took off a pair of shoes that you just happen to have bought in the UK. No difference, which or that. The second example: "I took off the shoes, which I bought in the UK" tells you nothing about how many pairs of shoes I bought in the UK. "I took off the shoes that I bought in the UK" tells you that I also own shoes I didn't buy in the UK.
    – user105719
    Jan 7, 2020 at 10:24

1 Answer 1


We use articles unless a noun is proper or being used to describe the type of something, or in some other situations like prepositional phrases.

The in the X is merely a signal that the speaker/writer expects the listener/reader to know which X without having to describe and explain it. It's mostly controlled by the speaker/writer point of view.

If that above condition doesn't apply, the indefinite article is used.

Appearing to expect someone to know what he/she is talking about when they really couldn't is a construct used to imply authority or importance, or the fact that you are in a "world" of the speaker and not yet up to speed on what's "expected" within it.

That is the tool which I use to edit video

If you don't know which tool, what's probably happening is that you are being introduced to this person's workplace and being shown what is familiar to him.

That is a tool which I use to edit video

The person you are talking to isn't assuming you should know which tool. It doesn't necessarily imply multiple tools are used to edit video, or even that there are multiple tools.

  • I suppose it can be parsed as: This is a tool... (pause) which I use to edit video. Dec 11, 2020 at 18:56

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