I only have an example from the IT world. I fail to come up with a similar real-life situation where I'd be unable to decide which article to use.

Let's say I need to add a field (think column) to a table of a database. I might say:

I've got to add a status field to the users table.

Or as might be written in a log:

Added a status field to the users table.

If by "status field" I mean a field that contains some sort of status information, that would probably be okay. But what if "status" is a name (proper noun). That is, I want to add a field, that has a specific name, and most likely a specific set of values, to a specific table.

On one hand this field will be unique (not one of a kind), which suggests to use "the." But it sounds awkward (to me) to use "the" with an entity that doesn't yet exist, and hasn't been mentioned before. I lean towards the indefinite article. But what bugs me is that I'm talking about a unique thing.

What should I choose the first time I mention it? After that the definite article is probably to be used.


Either article is probably acceptable and won't seem out of place.

Your reasoning is good. Do use "the" after the first time. I'd add that "Added the status field" can also work because in the past tense, we are describing from a time where the field certainly does exist. Even "I've got to add the status field" is fine, if the field is already described in design documentation, or maybe just earlier discussions you've had which would be known to the audience of the statement.

To make it clearer that "status" is the actual name in the source code rather than only a word describing its purpose, you could put it in quotes. Or in a format which allows it, put it in a fixed-width font.

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