Which one of these are correct, why, and what are the nuances?


a) This is a time of crisis
b) This is the time of crisis.


a) I was in a web of troubles.
b) I was in the web of troubles.


a) Some people have a tendency to curse when they are annoyed.
b) Some people have the tendency to curse when they are annoyed.

  • This is the tie of crisis is perfectly grammatical, but implies that this is the only time of crisis. In some contexts, this could make sense - if you'd already said that a crisis was looming, or if the context made clear that you were talking only about somebody's personal life. But without such a context, a time of crisis. makes more sense. And simlarly for the second. . 3 is a bit different, and I find both equally possible.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 4 '20 at 14:25

For cases 1 and 2, the indefinite article fits best.

For case 3, either is possible. The use of "the tendency to curse", with a definite article, would mean that the speaker thinks such a tendency is an established thing that they can point to with "the".
But the indefinite article is more likely even in example 3.

The examples have nouns modified by preposition phrases and "to curse', but that doesn't determine what kind of article to use.

The OP has mentioned a reference that says that post-modification calls for a definite article. Here are two examples of post-modification by clauses:

This is the time of crisis that we were warned about.

That example requires a definite article because the thing referred to already exists in the speaker's frame of reference.

This is a time of crisis that we must respond to.

This second example requires an indefinite article because it refers to something the speaker introduced at that moment.

  • But how do I determine which article will be best? Is there any way to find that? How can I know if it's an established thing or not? Why do I have to think about a million things before choosing an article? Jun 4 '20 at 13:22
  • Welcome to learning a foreign language. There are lots of grammar references on the web to guide you on article/specifier choice. Beyond that, reading a lot in your target language may help. Be encouraged that even if you don't choose the correct article, you will probably be understood, and as an ESL student, you won't be perfect, but it's alright. Jun 4 '20 at 13:32
  • On the web I found that we always use "the" in these kind of scenarios.Read the second point of this link "is the noun modified" advice.writing.utoronto.ca/english-language/definite-article Jun 4 '20 at 13:35
  • @English--moreexcthanlaws Rather than answer this here, I have modified my answer. I looked at your reference, and it provides some summary rules, but it's not the last word on the matter. Jun 4 '20 at 14:10
  • @English--moreexcthanlaws Note that at your reference, the three examples of post-modification given make the nouns definite things, requiring a definite article. That is not always the case with a post-modifier. Jun 4 '20 at 14:25

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