I came across one article on BBC and don’t really understand the usage of THE article there. There is a description of a postcard:

On its front was a cartoon of a rabbit asleep in a crib underneath the heading: "You're one to-day."

However, later there is a sentence:

On the reverse was a stamp bearing the head of King George, postmarked 27 September 1946. Next to that was an address: Miss F Kaye of 12 Northumberland Mansions, Luxborough Street, London, W1.”

Why is it "the headings" but "an address"? I thought it is "the heading" because we can see it quoted, but "the address" is also given…

Could you please help me ?

  • 8
    Don't overthink this. Native Anglophones wouldn't see anything remotely unusual in both the two highlighted articles being definite or both indefinite OR if the two choices were reversed. In this exact context it really makes no difference - it's just a (meaningless) stylistic choice. It's not such a likely choice, but I don't think I'd particularly notice if the definite article was used in On its front was the cartoon of a rabbit... Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 13:17
  • 1
    If the noun heading can take the, then the noun address must take the same article? In this case, the heading has unique importance, and the specific address does not. Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 13:38
  • I actually wonder whether the first sentence should be read “On its front… a cartoon … in a crib [and] underneath [it (the cartoon)] the heading “You’re one today.”
    – Jim
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 15:29

3 Answers 3


@FumbleFingers has the most important answer: Don't overthink it; the difference is not great. But just in the interest of covering all the bases: Yes, there is a little bit of difference in how the articles are being used.

A cartoon ... underneath the heading: "You're one today" This usage means that what follows is about to report the content of the heading. It makes "You're one today" into one big adjectival phrase modifying "heading." This is similar to how Winnie-the-Pooh lives "under the name of Sanders." An indefinite article could not do for Pooh; "Sanders" is equated to "name." Or maybe a more parallel example: In Longfellow's poem the youth carries "a banner with the strange device 'Excelsior'." "The" tells us that we are about to be told the contents of the banner. Note that in this usage, unlike the next one, we could not reasonably end the sentence with the noun that follows the article:

There was a cartoon of a rabbit underneath the heading.

"The" heading? what heading? If we had chosen "a heading," we could end the sentence there, but if we choose "the" we must continue to identify it.

It's a little confusing because the author punctuated the example with a colon after "heading." This was not strictly necessary, though not a mistake either. But they could legitimately have used no punctuation at all and the sentence would be valid:

... of a rabbit asleep in a crib underneath the heading "You're one today."

Next to that was an address: Miss F Kaye... This sentence could have ended with "address." As it happens, it chooses to go on to report the contents of the address, but this is extra, explanatory information, not grammatically vital to the sentence.

  • 1
    I disagree that the use of "the" requires further specification of the object. "There was a cartoon of a rabbit underneath the heading." is a perfectly fine and grammatical sentence, indicating the rabbit is underneath the heading, whatever it may be. The lack of specification implies that there is only one heading that is unambiguously the heading. Further specification simply allows for the fact that there might be more than one heading, and that the rabbit is under the one that reads "You're one today", but it's certainly not required in all circumstances. Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 21:16
  • @NuclearHoagie That's why I softened it with "we could not reasonably end the sentence" at that point. Yes, of course if the heading had previously been discussed then the definite article would be reasonable. But I hope the difference in these two usages is clear. "Definite article, + noun, + [noun or phrase]" means that the latter noun-or-phrase identifies or reports the first noun. E.g. "The good ship Lollipop" or "He quoted the proverb 'Better late than never.'" In these constructions, the modifying noun or phrase has been press-ganged into serving a vital role in the sentence. Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 21:25

There + be

Next to that was an address ...

There was an address ...

is a common way to introduce a new thing. The noun after there + be is expected to have an indefinite or non-specific meaning. Usually, it's an indefinite article (a/an), zero article, some(body), no(body), etc. rather than the, this, my, or a name.

[x] There was the address ...

As an introduction, it sounds unusual.

It is a stylistic choice. Certainly, it could have been put differently.

The address was ...

The address read ...

The context allows it, and the reader can easily work out what address is being discussed.

The heading is another stylistic choice. The context was prepared in the previous paragraph by the postcard. Now, unique and commonly recognised attributes of a postcard might (but don't have to) go with the definite article: the stamp, the heading, the signature, the date, etc. It's also reasonable to assume that a postcard, due to its limited space, has only one heading, thus the heading.


You should follow the first grammar rules; the first letter of address, 'a' is a vowel, so the article 'an' is appropriate, and 'heading' is some kind of special place on a TV screen / in pages, so 'the' is appropriate.

  • 2
    Welcome to English Language Learners! I feel this still doesn't explain the difference between using an indefinite article (an address) and a definite (the heading) - and ultimately that's what the question is about.
    – Glorfindel
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 6:24

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