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Yesterday I took a photo of raindrops and posted it to Instagram. I used “Raindrops on the window pane” as the description.

Then I started to think: Why did I use the definite article here?

When I said the phrase in my mind with the indefinite article, “Raindrops on a window pane”, it didn't sound right. However, logically, there should be the indefinite article: the reader or the listener doesn't know about this window pane, it's the first time it's mentioned. On the other hand, for me, it's this particular window pane.

What is the right way? Should I have used the indefinite article?

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    Both are perfectly acceptable. In this context, with the definite article, the reader understands that your are referring to a particular window pane, probably yours, the one with the raindrops. The use of a implies any window pane. Feb 18 at 10:51
  • @RonaldSole Thank you for your reply. It makes sense: the one with the raindrops. Feb 18 at 11:43
  • Both are definitely acceptable like Ronald mentions, but I would argue that they would portray a different feel to the reader. "Raindrops on a window pane." feels like you are just literally describing the photo, a literal caption. "Raindrops on the window pane." sounds more awkward to me and leads me to think you are trying to be stylistic with your wording rather than just describing the picture. In the same way that "Goin' back to the farm" may be a southern-farmer style of saying "headed home," and "I am going home" would just be literally describing the action.
    – Eli Harold
    Feb 18 at 12:54
  • When I first read "Raindrops on the window pane." I didn't think it was wrong, I just thought you were portraying something like "it's a rainy day again" rather than just describing the picture.
    – Eli Harold
    Feb 18 at 12:56

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Of course, the definite article doesn't mean that the thing referred to is completely unique - it just needs to be uniquely identifiable in the context.

For example, there are many cars, so you might say "I own a car". But, you might then say "I washed the car today", and it would be taken you mean your car, because that is the only one you are likely to wash. Inside your car, you would refer to the steering wheel, the windshield etc. because there can be only one of each thing you are referring to.

With your example - an aeroplane has many windows, but "the window" could refer to the window you were sitting next to. Of course, the 'title' of a photograph, if you want to call it that, can be anything that the photographer wants it to be. With the definite article, it sounds very personal; with the indefinite article, it seems more impersonal.

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  • Thank you, now it's clear that both variants are possible and I chose the right one because what I meant was my window pane rather than any other, possibly one that I was passing by. Mar 9 at 17:40

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