I have a question about articles in so-called 'of'-phrases. According to this thread, nouns followed by a modifier are usually accompanied by the definite article (if only they aren't concrete mass nouns and plural nouns). Yet, I frequently see that some phrases can also be accompanied by the indefinite article a/an, like for instance in the example from this guide:

This is a picture of my family.
I got a discount of 10 percent on the purchase.

It seems to me that usual rules that guide the usage of the articles do not always work here. Can anyone give me any advice on how to choose an article in such situations, please?

  • 1
    Probably more suitable for English Language Learners really. There needs to be an article and it can't be the because that would only be suitable when you are talking about a topic which you have already introduced previously. I don't think the of phrase is important here at all.
    – tripleee
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 8:10
  • In the linked thread, the example sentences are talking about specific things: "the closure" because something only closes once; "the distribution of wealth" because it's the single current distribution not a hypothetical one; etc. The upvoted answer talks about mass and plural nouns only, which "picture" and "discount" aren't. If you're presenting a particular picture you would use "the", e.g. if there's only one picture, but if you're showing one of many you say "a".
    – Stuart F
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 8:51
  • 1
    Article usage is extremely complex and takes decades to master. Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 10:50

1 Answer 1


A/An tends to indicate something that is not particularly specific: one item from many such items that is representative of its type:

This is a picture of my family. - This is one random example of a picture: it is my family.

I got a discount of 10 percent. = I got one random example of a discount: it was 10 percent.

You will note that "of my family" / "of 10%" are not fully specific - there are many "photos of my family" and many "10% discounts".

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