3

Articles are so confusing :)

1) "I got an idea to leave this place."

2) "I got the idea to leave this place."

  • Can they both mean the same and if there can be difference, what is it? Every time I encounter similar structures used interchangeably.

  • Does the first sentence makes the first mention of the idea, or tells what type of idea I got? Or it can mean both?


3)

I. "I got an idea to leave this place. That I got an(the) idea to leave this place means I was consious."

II. "I got the idea to leave this place. That I got an(the) idea to leave this place means I was consious."

What will be the difference saying with different articles in the second sentence of each pair? Are they both correct?

Please, help me to understand. I really rack my mind.

6

You're racking your brain because you are using short examples that are too brief for the sentence be either right or wrong. Either sentence could work just fine, so long as it had the right surrounding context.

Let's say you don't like your job, and one day your boss starts yelling at you. That's it! This has been too much. You've decided you've had enough, and now you're going to quit and do something else.

Later, you're explaining your decision to quit in your blog.

You could write:

Then, last Monday, my boss started yelling at me for no reason. That's when I got the idea that I should leave this place.

Or you could write:

When my boss started yelling at me, I suddenly had an idea: I should just leave this place.

The first one is fine. You've had lots of ideas in your life, but you're only focused on one of them: the idea that you should leave your job. Therefore, the definite article works in that sentence.

The second one is also acceptable. You're talking about an idea that suddenly came into your head. It's perfectly natural to tell a reader that you've had an idea, and then identify what that idea is:

I have an idea! Let's go bowling tomorrow night.

or:

I was watching TV, and saw some people bowling. That's when I had the idea that we should go bowling tomorrow night.

They are tricky, but they will only start to make sense if you put them in a context that's more than 8 or 9 words.

4

A simple rule is that "a" or "an" refers to a noun that has not been previously introduced in the context (a "new" object), whereas "the" refers to one that has been previously introduced or is in some other way known (an "old" object). As JR says, this can be tricky sometimes, because it isn't always clear from context whether the object is a "new" one or an "old" one. Here's an example (note "an" example, not "the" example, since I haven't mentioned it before) of where things can be tricky:

I got a feeling that things weren't quite right.
I got the feeling that things weren't quite right.

Either one of these is fine, although the second one is probably a bit more common. However:

I got a funny feeling that things weren't quite right.
I got the funny feeling that things weren't quite right.

Again, either one is fine, but here the first one is probably a bit more common. Also, the second one has a bit of the sense of "that funny feeling that we all get sometimes", which is entirely missing from the first one.

I also mentioned that you use "the" in situations where something is in "some other way known." We have a lot of these in our idioms: "took the easy way out" (we all know which easy way out we're talking about), "ran the numbers" (whatever numbers pertain to the situation), "stayed the course" (the course that was already laid out) and so on. Also, have a look at these:

I have to go to the bathroom.
Can you tell me where the bathroom is?

If you're in someone's home (including yours), the assumption is that there is a bathroom available, so you are asking for the bathroom that is available. (Study this sentence! :) ) However:

Can you tell me where I might find a rest room?
Can you tell me where I might find the rest room?

If you are in a public place, you might use either of the above sentences. The first one doesn't assume that there is a rest room (for example, you are in a park) and the second one does (for example, you are in a restaurant).

  • A very nice explanation, thank you! I get perplexed with things when I can't figure out the difference between using indefinite/definite article with the second mention. "He has a privilege to call the shots. That he has a (the?) privilege to call the shots means absolutely nothing". I can't figure out the difference if to say different articles in the second sentence and don't understand if the both usages are correct here. Could you please prompt me an answer? – Nikolay Komolov Dec 15 '14 at 16:48
  • We would say "he has the privilege of calling the shots." The reason for the definite article is that the subordinate clause defines which privilege we are talking about. See "He has the right to do as he pleases", "the right to one's own opinion", and so on. – BobRodes Dec 15 '14 at 18:38
  • This contradicts with that I saw many times "a privilege of". Why do people say it then? If not the first reference, what else can it connote? Thanks. – Nikolay Komolov Dec 15 '14 at 18:55
  • You will find "a privilege of" although less often. If your "of" clause describes what privilege it is, then "the" is correct. If your "of" clause describes to whom or to what class or group the privilege applies, then "a" is correct. "His company car and driver is a privilege of his rank" but "his rank gives him the privilege of a company car and driver." Also, if the privilege is unspecified, use "a": "A driver's license is a privilege. People with a driver's license enjoy the privilege of driving." – BobRodes Dec 17 '14 at 16:53
  • This is not an absolute rule, by the way, but it's pretty close. For example, I found this: "Is it plausible to think that people in a state of nature have a privilege of causing harm to deter or punish?" You wouldn't get much argument if you substituted "the" for "a" here. Look at this: "Do you suppose we might add a privilege of a car and driver to the list of privileges of our executive employees?" Here, again, you probably wouldn't get any argument for using "the privilege." Adding a member to a list can go either way. – BobRodes Dec 17 '14 at 19:19
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According to me, each of your statements would better fit in the following contexts:

  1. "I got an idea to leave this place. I wasn't sure it would work, but it was worth a try".

  2. "I got the idea to leave this place. I was sure it would work, nothing could possibly stop me."

  3. I. "I got an/the idea to leave this place. The fact I got an idea to leave this place means I was conscious, even if my idea wasn't that good after all."

    II. "I got the idea to leave this place. The fact I got the idea to leave this place means I was conscious, and able to analyze the situation successfully."

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