I am perplexed if I should use the indefinite or definite article when meaning any from the list.

Here are some examples:

1) "There are books on the table. When you take a book, check its cover."

2) "There are books on the table. When you take the book, check its cover."

3) "You can encounter (unspecific) problems with any device. How will you deal with a problem?"

4) "You can encounter (unspecific) problems with any device. How will you deal with the problem?"


  • If I say "a book" and "a problem" in 1 and 3 - can it refer only to the books/problems introduced, not any book as a class?

  • If I say "the book" and "the problem" in 2 and 4 - can it mean "any from the list introduced"?

Please, help. Thank you.

2 Answers 2


Going for an indefinite article seems to be the better choice for both of those sentences. [But trust me, articles are actually difficult!].

Here is why...

You certainly defined that there are books. This means you have introduced the books. Grammar rules now allow you to mention those books with the definite article 'the'. Said that...

There are books on the (the-because there's only one table on which books are lying) table. The books are about the World War II.

But then, the moment you say any book from that lot, you still don't define that particular book. This is the reason, it'll take indefinite article'.

There are the books... and when you take a (any of those) books, check out its cover.

Now, if there is a pile of books and imagine, you are talking about the book on the top; it'll then take the definite article. Because you are now talking about the specific book on the top.

There are the books. The first one talks about Adolf Hitler.

The same thing with the second example. You can encounter many problems with your device. But then, how you deal with any problem, you'll have to learn.

You can may encounter (unspecific) problems with any device. (Tell me) how will you deal with a problem?"

You are talking about some unspecific problem on some device. You are approaching a problem in a general way. It takes indefinite article. Something like... how do you fix a problem of your cellphone.

Imagine you are talking about some specific problem. It'll then take the indefinite article 'the'

My phone has the calendar problem (the device has some specific problem with the app -calendar, it might hang when you open it, for example). How do I deal with the problem will refer to the problem of calendar and nothing else.


If you ask someone to take any of a number of books lying on the table, not a specific one, you should use the indefinite article "a" here.

In the same way, if someone encounters a number of problems and you ask him how he encounters any of the problems, which is not a specific one, you should use the indefinite article "a".

Of course, in these cases you are referring to any of the books and problems introduced in the respective list.

You use definite article when you refer to a specific thing. Suppose there are three different books: a book on history, a book on chemistry, and the third book on economics. Here, you can say "when you take the (definite article) book on history, check its cover".

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