Can we use "ghost of a chance" with a or the without any difference?

  • a ghost of a chance
  • the ghost of a chance
  • 2
    Does this answer your question? Using "the" vs "a"... and see also any of the many many many results when you search for "a vs the."
    – randomhead
    Oct 11 '21 at 19:24
  • @randomhead No, I know the difference between "a" and "the". Be that as it may, this is an idiom that is used with both "a" and "the". Do you mean, if I know that specific ghost/chance, I must use "the" and if I don't know that, I must use "a"?!! It's vague for me. Oct 11 '21 at 20:01

It seems we can, though I've only ever heard the ghost.

In "He saw a ghost. It was the ghost of a child" we switch from the indefinite to the definite article, believing - as I think we do - that we are entitled to just one ghost each. We certainly wouldn't speak of 'a ghost of the child.'

On the other hand, speaking metaphorically we might say "He was so thin he was a mere ghost of a child." So there may also be merit in the indefinite ghost of a chance.

  • 1
    And I (Canadian) have only ever heard "a ghost of a chance".
    – gotube
    Oct 11 '21 at 20:40

There is nothing special about this idiom. Whether you use a or the follows the normal rules, namely, whether you are talking about a generalized chance or a specific chance.

Consider the unmodified noun "a chance." We use the definite or indefinite article depending on context:

She didn't have a chance.
He had a slight chance.
There was a chance.

In all of the above examples, there is an undefined or unintroduced chance, so we use the indefinite article.

There was the slimmest chance.
He took the chance.

Now we are talking about one specific chance, namely, the one that is the slimmest or the one that he took,1 so we use the definite article.

You are asking about a phrase which adds the qualifier "ghost of a," which means very faint or insubstantial (a metaphor using the imagery of a ghost of a person, which is a faint remnant of what their body used to be). Think of "ghost of a" as being an adjectival phrase, which I'm pretty sure it is; just like the adjectives "slight" and "slimmest" in my example above, we insert "ghost of a" into the sentence without modifying the article that's already there. (Note that within the phrase, we always use the indefinite article after the "of.")

She didn't have a ghost of a chance.
He had a slight ghost of a chance. [redundant]
There was a ghost of a chance.
There was the slimmest ghost of a chance.
He took the ghost of a chance.

1Even here it depends on context. "He took a chance" and "He took the chance" are both possibilities; which option is correct depends on the rest of the paragraph.

  • Thanks. So please tell me in these senteces we must use a/the. 1- I didn't think I had a/the ghost of a chance of passing the exam, but I did. 2- They don’t stand a/the ghost of a chance of winning. Oct 11 '21 at 21:17
  • @Mohamad, if you only used "chance" without "ghost of a" which versions would you choose?
    – randomhead
    Oct 11 '21 at 21:37
  • I'd choose "the" but I've seen this version somewhere. "They don’t stand a ghost of a chance of winning." ldoceonline.com/dictionary/not-a-ghost-of-a-chance Oct 11 '21 at 21:45
  • 1
    In both of those sentences "the" is the incorrect choice...
    – randomhead
    Oct 11 '21 at 21:59

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