Tell me please which article I have to use in the following context: the indefinite or definite article.

Why didn't you go to school yesterday? I want to know an/the actual answer.

I have heard native English speakers use an in similar contexts. Do native English speakers use an in similar cotexts because answer is somehow modified by actual?

  • 1
    To give an answer implies there could be other possible responses. If you give the answer, this implies there are no other answers (more specifically, that only the answer as given is "factually correct"). In your context, the word actual is syntactically and semantically irrelevant (except as a kind of "intensifier", which arguably emphasises that the speaker wants the true answer, but that's pragmatically obvious anyway). Also note that idiomatically most native speakers would say I want [to know] the truth here. Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 16:33
  • (certainly not ...a truth) Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 16:39
  • Let's say I gave someone a math problem to solve and if I say to then "I want an anwer to it in five minutes" that would mean that I want any answer, not necessarily the right one. But If I say "I want the answer" that would mean I want the correct answer. Am I right? Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 17:23
  • Not really. Native speakers simply wouldn't think like that. Pragmatically, it should be obvious you're not looking for "incorrect" answers, so in practice we wouldn't normally be consciously aware of the "any answer / the correct answer" distinction when making the arbitrary stylistic choice between definite and indefinite article in such contexts. That distinction is just something you could bear in mind in certain contexts - but it's not normally relevant, so don't "over-analyse" it. Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 17:42
  • I got it, but what should I say in my example "I want an answer" or "I want the answer"? Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 17:47

1 Answer 1


An actual answer is a reply that answer the question instead of going around it. The actual answer is the correct reply.

Let's say a politician was bribed. I ask him "were you bribed?". If he says "my finances are none of your concern", that is not an answer to the question. If he says "No", that is an actual answer to the question, but a wrong one (a lie). If he says "Yes", that is the actual answer to the question (the truth).

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