As soon as Tom stepped into the room, Pete shoved him against a/the wall.

In writing would native speakers be more inclined to use the definite article here even though we don't know which of the four walls of the room it is?

  • 1
    Neither. Native speakers would identify the wall in question, and then use the (for example: the opposite wall). Otherwise it sounds like Pete picked a wall randomly or the room had only one wall. Mar 29 '21 at 12:46
  • 5
    Both are fine. But in practice, I'm quite sure most native speakers would use the wall rather than a wall in the cited context - even though obviously most rooms have four walls, and it's vanishingly unlikely there's any prior context identifying the specific wall that someone got pushed against. Which just goes to show there's a limit to how useful the idea of only using the definite article for something previously mentioned is. Mar 29 '21 at 12:48
  • 1
    Here's a relevant usage chart. Mar 29 '21 at 12:50
  • Also: Tackling usually means throwing someone to the ground. Tackling into a wall sounds strange. Mar 29 '21 at 13:59
  • 1
    @EthanBolker Pete obviously has poor tackle technique.
    – mdewey
    Mar 29 '21 at 14:02

Yes. Here's why.

Where conversations involve more than 2 people, and articles are used, use of the means everyone should know which X, and those that don't will have to ask questions to catch up, or just remember that you don't know which X and need to pay attention to get that information when you can.

In fiction, sometimes the conversation includes you as the reader, the narrator, and the characters in the story.

As soon as Tom stepped into the room, Pete shoved him against a/the wall.

So Pete knows which wall is the wall, and so did Tom (if he didn't, he knows now).

You the reader don't know, but all the writer thinks you need to know right now is that Tom wasn't shoved into any random wall, but rather a wall that both Tom and Pete knew about.

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