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I'm trying to learn English articles better, and I came across this particular example where I can't figure out the differences in meaning between the phrases "with an assumption that" and "with the assumption that".

When I googled these phrases, the one with 'the' and the other with 'an' had around 200M and 10M hits, respectively, so I know the former is more commonly used. But I want to know the differences so that I could use them appropriately, provided that there are any differences between the two.

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    Can you tell that one is singular and the other is plural?
    – KillingTime
    Aug 9, 2023 at 20:16
  • @KillingTime That's a good point, although the question would still arise if the second one were "with the assumption that".
    – Barmar
    Aug 9, 2023 at 20:33
  • If there's just a single assumption, I don't think it matters whether you say "an assumption" or "the assumption".
    – Barmar
    Aug 9, 2023 at 20:34
  • Why not just "assuming that..."?
    – alphabet
    Aug 9, 2023 at 21:20
  • There is no practical difference in meaning when there's a that-clause that will specify the assumption. Aug 9, 2023 at 21:29

1 Answer 1

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The difference is subtle, and appears to hang on the difference between using an indefinite article "a/an", and the definite article, "the".

With "an assumption", the sentence refers in general to an unspecified assumption.

With "the assumption", the sentence appears to refer to a specific -- although not included -- assumption.

However, once the assumption is spelled out, it's no longer unspecific. So if the sentence with "an assumption" then goes on to spell out the assumption, it's using an indefinite article to point to something specific, which doesn't quite make sense. I'd say it's a minor, stylistic error.

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  • A very clear answer! I've understood the logic of it. Thanks!
    – Tsubasa
    Aug 10, 2023 at 2:24

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