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-- I think we are running out of butter.

-- I will be doing some shopping later in the day I can buy some.

(3 hours later)

-- Have you bought butter?/Have you bought the butter?

Which one is more correct?

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My first impression is that either "butter" or "the butter" is possible.

I would justify "butter" on the grounds of "butter" being "butter". The speaker doesn't specify what kind of butter was supposed to be bought.

On the other hand, "the butter" is also possible. Even though, the butter lacks a specification it still can be specified as "the butter I asked you to buy".

I wonder if my take holds water.

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    It does hold water. The first sentence feels right without "the", because you're not pointing at a specific butter. For the second use of butter, it gets more specific, so "the" feels right here. – Aaron Bell Feb 28 at 8:48
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    Side note: a lot of people question when to use "the", and my advice is to read a lot. When I learned it in school, I didn't learn it thinking about specificity. I just saw it so much that it started to "feel right" to have in some cases and "feel wrong" in others. – Aaron Bell Feb 28 at 8:52

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