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  1. He is a man who went to see me at the airport yesterday.
  2. He is the man who went to see me at the airport yesterday.

While (2) means a man saw me at the airport and he is that man, my friend and I were arguing about whether (1) is totally unacceptable. Can you imagine a situation where it can be said?

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    You would use the man if you had mentioned him before, a man if the person you were talking to had never heard of him - but went to see me at the airport sounds odd. Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 17:58
  • @KateBunting Thanks. Imagine that I'm already home, which is far away from the airport. Can I still say " Somebody came to see me at the airport?"
    – ForOU
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 7:34
  • If you were at the airport when the man arrived, it's came (because he travelled towards you). But, as Solublefish says, if you had just got off a plane there (rather than being at work there), met me or came to meet me would be more appropriate. Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 8:55

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Neither is definitely incorrect, but both are strange and (1) is especially strange.

First of all, as Kate Bunting notes, "went to see me" is an unnatural construction. I'm sure most native speakers would say "came to see me". The literal meaning is identical - the man travelled from wherever he was to the airport, for the purpose of seeing you. But for whatever reason, in English we use "to come" if we're referring to someone or something travelling to ourselves.

An even more specific idiom applies if you yourself were arriving at the airport at around the same time (perhaps by getting off an airplane). In that case we would say "... met me at the airport yesterday." (Surely this is the most common reason someone would go to see someone else at an airport?)

Of course your question was actually about the article.

As DrMoishe Pippik notes, the indefinite article "a" could be used if more than one man had come to see you at the airport yesterday, and you were now referring to one of them. In that unusual situation, however, I think it would be more natural to say "He is one of the people who met me at the airport yesterday."

I'm not sure why, but a sentence that starts "He is a man who ..." tends to be about some fundamental or definitive aspect of the person, rather than focusing on a specific action. E.g. "He is a man who really loves ice cream." is describing the man more than it is the verb "to love".

Finally, I'm not sure this sentence benefits from using an article at all. The simple version is just "He came to see me at the airport yesterday." or "He met me at the airport yesterday."

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"He is a man who went to see me at the airport yesterday," only makes sense if there were a number of people who greeted you and he was one.

If you don't have many admirers, "He is the man who went to see me at the airport yesterday," would be correct.

One might use, "he (or 'she') is a..." to point out an exceptional, but not unique, individual:

  • "She was a pioneer in her field." I.E., she was one of a few inaugurators.
  • "She was the pioneer in her field." I.E., she was the premier inaugurator.

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