When we describe a meaning of the word,is it better to use article the or a? For example, boarding pass is a document that… or Boarding pass is the document that….

Passport control is a place where… or is the place where…

Does the article changes the meaning of these sentences?

It will be really helpful if you explain it to me, thanks

  • “When we describe the meaning of a word.” Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 21:22
  • It is quite common for learners of English to have difficulties getting the use of the articles straight, especially for learners whose native languages don’t have articles. There are lots (and lots) of resources on line that can help you master English articles. Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 21:24

2 Answers 2


If there is a specific document, use "the".

Use the boarding pass issued at the terminal to enter the gate.

There is only one boarding pass issued to each traveler.

If there are a number of documents, use "a".

Use a birth certificate to obtain a passport.

A birth certificate could be issued by many different authorities, and one can obtain multiple copies of a birth certificate.


If a noun is singular and not a proper noun, i.e. a name of some kind, you need an article, either "the" or "a". Or the word "one" or a possessive, like "my", maybe a few other exceptions I'm not thinking of.

So no, you should not say, "Boarding pass is a document that ..." You should say, "A boarding pass is a document that ..." If you are talking about one particular person's boarding pass, you might say, "Your boarding pass is the document that ..."

"Passport control" does not take an article because it is a name.

"Passport control is a place where ..." versus "Passport control is the place where ..." In practice, either would be acceptable. If you are talking about one particular passport control office, you should use "the". If you are talking about any of many passport control offices, you should use "a". Like, "{assport control at Kennedy Airport is the place ..." Use "the" because there is only one. (Or if there's more than one at that airport, than you'd use "a". Or if there are other places at the airport where you can do whatever follows, then use "a".) "Passport control is a place where ...", with an assumed "at any airport", you use "a" because it is not a specific place but one of many possibilities. But in practice, if you just say "Passport control", either "a" or "the" would work because "a" would mean one of many passport control offices, while "the" would mean the passport control office at the particular airport under discussion, so either is correct in context. There's a subtle distinction that in this case makes no difference.

Perhaps I should clarify that if this is only one of many places where you could do whatever follows in the sentence, you should say "a". For example, if you said, "Passport control is a place where you interact with government officials", you'd have to say "a" because it is not the only such place. You would also interact with government officials at a security checkpoint, at customs, etc. But assuming that passport control is the only place at the airport to do whatever, like something to do with passports, then "the place" could be appropriate.

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