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Here is what I've learned:

"I like living in a city." This sounds like it doesn't matter which city I live in -- any one will do.

"I like living in the city." This is a more common thing to say. People say "the city" to mean not "the country". These are two set phrases, representing two concepts/lifestyles. (Of course, if there is a context, "the city" can mean a particular city.)

Group A(more common): I like living in the city. Transportation is easier in the city. Life in the city is convenient. In the city things change all the time.

and

Group B: I like living in a city. Transportation is easier in a city. Life in a city is convenient. In a city things change all the time.

Is it always better to use Group A? Can you provide a context where it is better to use Group B?

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    The city refers to the city as a specific type of thing -- as opposed to the country. You don't use a city here, because that sounds like it doesn't matter whatever city you live in -- any one will do. It's a common ELL mistake -- thinking that different common words mean the same thing. Apr 3, 2021 at 14:50
  • @FeliniusRex "the country" is a set phrase, right? We cannot say “I like living in the town”, but for some enigmatic reason, we can say "I like living in the country",
    – joy2020
    Apr 3, 2021 at 17:13
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    Yes. What I meant was people say the city to mean not the country - you are right that the country is a set phrase. It seems to be either city or country - even though a lot of folks prefer small towns. Apr 3, 2021 at 17:37
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    I think they are roughly equivalent. Downtown is better than the suburbs and better than the much too rural country. Note: when I was growing up in very urban Brooklyn "going to the city" meant visiting Manhattan. Apr 3, 2021 at 18:27
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    If you want to split hairs, I suppose it could be argued that "a city" invites one to focus on a specific hypothetical city and its affairs? They're the same for all practical purposes, of course. Apr 5, 2021 at 7:28

1 Answer 1

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The following answer is my note from a discussion with my English teacher who is an American.


The following essay is a contextual example where it is better to use Group B:

a TOEFL essay

"The city" has two meanings:

1, a particular city (like New York). This non-generic usage might be more common.

2, People say "the city" to mean not "the country". This is a generic usage, representing the concept of city.

If it is just one sentence, Group A and Group B are far more interchangeable. If it is just one sentence, Group A would be more common. However, there is flexibility there depending on what you're trying to convey.

In that essay, I wouldn't suggest Group A, because "the city" sounds like you are only subjectively and emotionally describing city life or lifestyle that you feel.

Group B is definitely correct, more common, and better in that essay (but not necessarily in all formal contexts). Group B sounds like you have written a study or treatise on city life vs country life. It sounds like you did research, and this will be the summary of your research. "A city" can be used generically to mean any city. You are confident that life in any city will be better; you may have statistics to back it up.

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