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According to this flowchart, definite article "the" is used to refer to the one specific item.

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I'm confused with by whom and how it is determined whether something is specific or not.

Question 1

Let's say you're trying to choose a Pokemon out of three.

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Which sentence is better in this case?

I would choose a fire-type Pokémon from these three.

(There're many fire-type Pokemon in this game and I would choose one out of many.)

I would choose the fire-type Pokemon from these three.

(There's only one fire-type Pokemon in this bag and I would choose him.)

Question 2

Will you explain to me how these are different? (Both are taken from dialogs in the game)

Would you like to give a nickname to the newly hatched Charmander?

Then what shall the new nickname be?

1 Answer 1

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There is a difference between "a fire-type pokemon" and "the fire-type pokemon".

In the indefinite example, "a", you are generally about your preference for fire-type pokemon. It isn't specific to the three pokemon that you are looking at, but a general fact. It means that if there was a different fire-type in the suitcase, you'd still choose the fire-type.

On the other hand by saying "the fire-type pokemon" you are saying that there is a specific example that you are speaking about, and you believe your listener will also know which specific pokemon you are referring to. And if there was a different fire-type pokemon in the suitcase, you might not choose it.

In the second example, the nickname is generic when it is first mentioned. But when it is mentioned the second time it specifically means "that nickname that you intend to give to the Charmander". As it is specific on the second mention, it uses "the".

So the question "is something specific?" is determined by the speaker, using their belief about what the listener will understand. If you think your listener will be able to answer the question "which?", then you can use "The"

I would choose a fire-type Pokémon from these three.

Listener won't be able to answer the question "Which pokemon" because I would choose any fire-type.

I would choose the fire-type Pokémon from these three.

The listener would be able to answer "which pokemon" since they can see that there in only one fire-type, and I am talking about it.

Would you like to give a nickname to the newly hatched Charmander?

The listener would not be able to answer "which nickname" since this is the first time I've mentioned nicknames.

Then what shall the new nickname be?

Listener would be able to answer "which nickname", it is the nickname of the Charmander that I just mentioned.

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  • Your answer is so helpful. I haven't thought it that way! But it has given me another question. "A nickname of my Charmander is ..." or "The nickname of my Charmander is ...", which is better when it's mentioned for the first time?
    – Marronnier
    May 14, 2022 at 16:44
  • "A nickname" would imply that your chamander has several nicknames. "The nickname" implies that it has only one.
    – James K
    May 14, 2022 at 17:07
  • Oh, so that's why it asks "Would you like to give a nickname ..." since its nickname is not fixed and could be any! When I introduce him to someone, "The nickname of the Charmander" is more natural cuz its nickname is fixed, right? It helps me a lot! Many thanks:)
    – Marronnier
    May 14, 2022 at 17:18

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