Consider the conversation.

A: "Where are you from?"

I: "I’m living in a rural area in Beijing."

"A rural area" is used here because there are several separated rural areas in Beijing and I'm living in one of them. Am I using the correct article in this context?

  • 1
    The grammar rules are correct, but "rural" and "in Beijing" seem to be contradictory. Beijing is a city, and so is, by definition, urban. Perhaps "near Beijing" or "in Beijing Province" – James K Jul 23 '20 at 0:54

Yes, your usage is correct.

"A"/"An" are indefinite articles, which are used when the subject of the article is not specifically identifiable by the reader/listener.

My question was answered by a StackExchange user (as there are many StackExchange users)

"The" is the definite article, which is used the subject of the article is specifically identifiable by the reader/listener.

My question was answered by the ELL site on StackExchanges (as there is only one StackExchange user with that username; thank you to mcalex for the example)

Note that the sentence does not need to identify the article's subject itself. "The" can be also used because the subject is unique ("the year 2020 AD"), or the subject can be identified by a prior sentence.

  • Perhaps a confusing example because SE users can have the same names. – Azor Ahai -him- Jul 22 '20 at 21:45
  • 1
    We can have duplicate usernames? Personal names, of course can be duplicated). – sharur Jul 22 '20 at 22:06
  • yes, they don't have to be unique – Azor Ahai -him- Jul 22 '20 at 22:11
  • 1
    You learn something every day; I'll think of a better example (thank you very much). – sharur Jul 22 '20 at 22:14
  • @shanur maybe: '... was answered by the ELL site on StackExchange'? – mcalex Jul 23 '20 at 4:20

"A rural area" implies there are many rural areas, and possibly separated from each other.

"The rural area" implies there is one rural area, or that all of the rural areas are so close they can be confused as one single rural area.

I believe both are correct.

If you said to me "a rural area", I would want to ask "which rural area?" because it sounds like you would be able to tell me which unique area you are from. However if you said to me "the rural area", I would assume you are also saying "all rural areas are the same and there is nothing unique about any of them" so I would not ask which rural area you are from.

  • 2
    This is not a good answer because you ignored the specifics of the original post. "The rural area" is not correct because the original question specified that there "are several separated rural areas." Your explanation of the difference between the uses of the definite and indefinite article is good, but you need to edit your answer carefully to relate that explanation to the question. – Jeff Morrow Jul 22 '20 at 15:34
  • I can't think of a time I would say "the rural area near ..." it sounds pretty wrong. – Azor Ahai -him- Jul 22 '20 at 21:46
  • @Azor Ahai, this is not wrong if a specific area is referenced: "Where is the treasure buried?" Answer: In the rural area near pirate lake. If there is only one rural area near pirate lake then this works. – johnDanger Jul 22 '20 at 22:25
  • @johnDanger Yes, it's grammatical, but somewhat infelicitous to me. – Azor Ahai -him- Jul 23 '20 at 0:31
  • @AzorAhai--hehim I agree; to me, rural area is indefinite and uncountable: no “the rural area” or “two rural areas”. But oddly, it can be plural: “in rural areas”. – StephenS Aug 12 '20 at 20:21

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