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That first season wrapped everything up nicely and when I heard that a second season would be made I started to wonder if it would be able to reach the same quality as the first season.

Source: Bridge Season.

I have from time to time problems to decide whether to use the definite or indefinite article before ordinal numbers. As to my sentence: would usage of the definite article in the first part of my sentence be a grammatical mistake? Why is there "a second season" but "the first season" in it?

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Please try some peas.
-- Mmmm. These peas are delicious! Do you have a secret recipe?
I'll let you in on the secret: my grandma's recipe calls for a generous dash of arsenic.
-- They're scrumptious. I've already eaten the first helping you have given me.
Well then, have a second helping. But I doubt you will ask for a third.

Why do we say "the first helping" but "a second helping"?

The first helping is a particular helping: it actually existed, and was of a certain size and taste and color and temperature, and so forth, and it was served to you at a particular time.

A second helping, on the other hand, is only a possibility, a concept, an abstraction: "a-helping-that-would-come-after-a-first-helping". Its only attributes or properties are its ordinal and its category.

In the same way, "a second season" means only "a season that would follow upon the first season". Until it acquires some specific properties in addition to its ordinal (2nd) and its category (season), such as plots and stories, new characters or reappearing characters, a number of episodes, whatever, we cannot speak of "the second season".

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    Nicely done. I had started to answer the O.P.'s question ("Would the definite article in the first part of the sentence be a grammatical mistake?") by saying, "It would not be a grammatical mistake, but the sentence wouldn't have exactly the same meaning." Then I got stuck trying to put my finger on WHY. I think you nailed it, though. In fact, a few years down the road, in a similar interview, the speaker might well say, "When I heard that the second season would be made..." – J.R. Apr 24 '15 at 15:37
  • Thanks. I think we can use "the" after-the-fact (years down the road) because the second season will have actually happened by then, though we could still say years later "When I heard there was going to be a second season ...". Easy to see how articles pose such difficulty for some non-native speakers. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 25 '15 at 15:06

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