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Let's say I wanna say something like

  1. If you want more detailed information please refer to (a or the) relevant document A.

  2. I met Julia in (a, the, or no article) Walmart in my neighborhood.

  3. Sorry I can't help you right now. I'm at (a vs the) gym right now.

My native language has no article so it's super confusing for me. Any tips on general rules for something similar to what I wrote?

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    I want to say, please! (1) If only one document is relevant, it's the. (2) If there is only one Walmart in your neighbourhood, the. If there are several branches and you don't need to specify which, you could use a. (3) Most people would use the, meaning 'the one I usually go to'. Jul 5, 2021 at 13:50
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    If you're talking about a specific thing, use the. If it's one of many or a generic thing, use a. Your sentences above would all use the. Jul 5, 2021 at 14:15
  • FeliniusRex's comment is a very good general rule, although I do think one could also say "at a Walmart in my neighborhood" if there is more than one in your neighborhood.
    – stangdon
    Jul 5, 2021 at 14:43

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You use the definite article (the) when you are referring to something specific. Context is everything, because some things can be unique in one context but not in another. For example, there are lots of cars in the world, so one might say "I own a car", but English speakers often refer to the car that they own as "the car", because it is specific to them.

Looking at your examples:

If you want more detailed information please refer to (a or the) relevant document A.

This example appears to contain a mistake. As you are talking about relevance, and there is only one document, the definite article seems appropriate (ie "the relevant document"). However, it also gives the document a name - "document A". There would be absolutely no need to use an article if you name the document - you could just say "refer to document A".

I met Julia in (a, the, or no article) Walmart in my neighborhood.

It could any of these. No article is fine, because 'Walmart' is a name. However, you could also say 'the Walmart', because it is specifically the one in your neighbourhood. You could say "a Walmart", but only if there is more than one Walmart in your neighbourhood.

Sorry I can't help you right now. I'm at (a vs the) gym right now.

This is something of an exception. "At the gym" is an idiomatic way of saying that you are at your gym (ie the gym you normally attend, perhaps where you are a member). "A gym" would be grammatically correct as there are many gyms, but by using the indefinite article it sounds like you are being deliberately non-specific. It may sound like you are visiting a random gym for some other reason than working out.

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  • ... refer to the relevant document A has 'A' in apposition to 'the relevant document' and is justified in the telegraphic language often encountered in forms. 'refer to A' . // 'I met her at Tesco's' probably still outperforms 'I met her at Tesco' in the UK. This gets messy, though not with with say 'Waterstones'. // Exactly. //// It's at this point I usually add 'Collins Cobuild has a 100+ page monograph purely addressing 'articles in English', and it's far from comprehensive (missing out Master's analyses and the use of the indefinite article with non-count usages ...). Jul 5, 2021 at 16:38

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