What article should I use when going into a shop and telling the manager I want to buy something?

I'm looking for a pair of shoes


I'm looking for the pair of shoes (I choose what I want to buy)

Some English language textbooks say: the article The is used for a choice

  • 2
    You must have misunderstood what "some English language textbooks" mean. Native speakers would never use the definite article in your context. We only normally use the when the specific referent is known to both speaker and audience, but in your context neither you nor the sales manager [yet] know which pair of shoes you will eventually "find" (and presumably buy). Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 15:15
  • 1
    It's a situation. Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 15:51

2 Answers 2


It's true that when you're choosing something specific, you use "the" rather than "a". But in the case when you're walking into a shoe store, you're not yet ready to choose your shoes.

You'll probably look at dozens of different styles, maybe try 4 or 5 of them on, and then choose the red Adidas. Walking into the store, you knew you were going to buy a pair of shoes (just one pair among many pairs available), but it wasn't until the end that you actually chose the pair.

  • 1
    The only situation where I could see "the" being used is something like "I'm looking for the pair of shoes I saw last week" with a description of what they looked like, for example. But again, those are a specific pair of shoes you are looking for, and you know which ones they are already when you mention them.
    – Esther
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 16:54

Correct: I'm looking for a pair of shoes.

We can use 'the' when the speaker and the listener know what pair of shoes is being referred to.)

I'm looking for the pair of shoes I saw a few minutes ago/yesterday.

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