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Using the indefinite article a with the word final has always confused me. I mean how come something that is final can be considered indefinite! When it's final, it's definitely final, isn't it?

An investigation report from Marin County Sheriff’s Office Coroner Division confused me further. It reads...

At this time, the Sheriff’s Office Coroner Division suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia, but a comprehensive investigation must be completed before a final determination is made.

When we investigate something and come up with our final decision, it's pretty final. Something like...

"After evaluating our company's situation today, we have come up with the final decision of shutting it down."

About Robin William's case, when those investigators will look into the matter and come up with something authentic, that's the final decision/determination. After all, it's legally declared. They must come up with the final decision because there cannot be two final decisions or final decision that's random! Using a final decision triggers some funny examples in my mind - a final decision, thereafter another final decision and then a random final decision and after those many final decisions, the final decision! :)

In fact, in that particular sentence (after reading examples of COCA for 'a final' sentences), it should have 'the' because they are telling something (investigation) must be completed BEFORE a final determination is made. They are pretty concerned about the determination and hence want to go for a comprehensive investigation. After doing that hard work, they don't come up with a possible final statement. When it's final, it's not something possible. Again, there cannot be two finals or a random final to support a final statement and not the final statement.

I look this quite similar to using a with result. When the result is out, the result is out and not a result.

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At this time, the Sheriff’s Office Coroner Division suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia, but a comprehensive investigation must be completed before a final determination is made.

Maybe they use the indefinite article because said Coroner Division routinely conducts investigations regarding different cases and comes up with final determinations on its level of authority. Then another body, say, a court, may use a particular final determination as one of the factors on which its verdict could be based. Said verdict will probably still be subject to possible reconsideration by a higher judicial authority and so on.

I mean, the determination might be final on the level of the Coroner Division but in the general scheme of things it may be just one of the documents used by the court system. It is also not final in the Coroner Division's routine of making determinations on different cases. Furthermore, the Coroner Division might abstain from making any determination due to a lack of conclusive evidence.

I googled using the "a final" indefinite query and found a helpful discussion at Wordreference, from which I quote part of an explanation provided by Biffo, a member of that forum:

Note that you can use 'a' with 'last', e.g.

Instructor: You have failed to complete the course three times. You should stop trying and think of a different career. Student: Please allow me to have a last attempt.

The student says "a last attempt" because there is no certainty that another attempt will be allowed. Only if it was normal for people to be allowed four attempts could the student say "the last attempt".

Here are two examples using 'a final decision'.

1) Wife: When are you going to finally decide to stop smoking? Husband: I will never make a final decision. I am totally addicted so I can't promise that any decision I make will be final.

This decision is hypothetical so it cannot be described as 'the final decision'.

2) Negotiator A: When can we expect a decision? Negotiator B: I can give you a provisional decision on Monday and, if all the conditions are met, a final decision on Friday. If the conditions are not met then the final decision will take longer.

Note that B has introduced the idea that there is more than one type of decision. The first time he mentions 'a provisional decision' and then 'a final decision'. The second time he says 'the final decision' because the idea has already been introduced.

  • True but for them, it's the final decision as they won't get the second chance, do they? Something like the final decision of the state government was revised by the final decision of the central government. You cannot have a at any of those places! – Maulik V Aug 12 '14 at 7:50
  • I'm not sure myself, Maulik. Never sure with those articles. I've found this discussion on "final decision": forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=2567105&langid=18 – CowperKettle Aug 12 '14 at 7:59
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    I agree with CopperKettle, "a" is possible because it is one of many determinations. For the same reason it is "a comprehensive investigation" and not "the comprehensive investigation". The definite article is also possible, then it will refer to this particular determination. – fluffy Aug 12 '14 at 9:28

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