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I was reading the news and came across this sentence:

More data could provide additional details — or make the hints of a new particle disappear.

The new particle has already been mentioned several times before. There, the word used the definite article (although the word hints didn't). I thought this sentence should be using the definite article as well in order to refer to the same thing.

Why is the indefinite article in front of new particle being used, and what would be the difference between the definite and indefinite articles?

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This is a noun phrase embedded in another noun phrase, so the total is

the hints of a new particle

It's true that "particle" has been mentioned before, but only as different possibilities of what it could be. Some say that it doesn't even exist. Thus, this particle has not been defined. So we can hardly say we are taking about a specific particle in the sentence you ask about. But the sentence is talking about specific hints (in fact, on one level, this article is really about the hints, and not about "the particle"). If the sentence were talking about hints of only one, specific particle, then it could have said the hints of the particle.

Compare:

Game hunters are searching for a white bengal tiger named Ellison which escaped from the local zoo yesterday and which residents have claimed to have spotted. No one has taken a photo or video of the tiger, but hints of its nearby existence exist. They include footprints that match known footprints of Ellison and people's testimony to having seen and heard such a tiger. The local warden says that the hints of the tiger are quite believable.

Here, we are talking about hints of a tiger that has been clearly defined. The text is not speculating what kind of tiger (if any) it could be.

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If as a news report author I say:

More data could provide additional details — or make the hints of the new particle disappear.

it will not be logical. It's as if I know for sure that this particle exists, but the narrow-minded researchers may decide it does not exist, should the hints disappear. However, I, being smarter than them, would still know that it does exist.


In reality, we have some definite hints, but they point at some particle of which existence we cannot yet be certain:

Last winter physicists detected hints of a potential new subatomic particle.

Last winter physicists detected hints of some potential new subatomic particle.

The matter is, the hints do not belong to the particle, despite the fact that we use the possessive preposition of. It's an abridgement of

Last winter physicists detected hints showing that a new, yet undiscovered particle may exist.

This is why these hints can disappear:

This spring physicists discovered that the hints disappeared. The phenomena detected last winder were in reality associated with already known particles.

Hints always point at something ephemeral, a thing or a phenomenon that may or may not turn out to be real.

Even if the existence of this particle is confirmed, a historical chapter in a book printed in 2116 may say that

The Princeton team first detected hints of a new particle on 12 September 2015.

.. even if the whole chapter is dedicated to the particle, and this particle is mentioned many times prior to this quote.

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