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I was thinking of a sentence;

July 16, 1999, is the date at which my dog died.

It shows the specific date at which my dog died.

But when I use "a" instead of "the", I think I am focusing more on the type of the date.

July 16, 1999, is a date at which my dog died.

As is the case with the day:

That was a day my dog died (type, or kind of the day)

That was the day my dog died (identifying the day; the specific day)

Am I correct about the articles involving the date?

  • I really won't use 'a' for this, I mean, when there's an exact date... It sounds pretty awkward. Well, maybe it's just me. (others might have a different opinion regarding this) Unless that specific date is being identified as a part of something else? i.e., "July 16, 1999 is a date in 1999." (obviously... something to that effect?) – shin Jul 12 '16 at 3:40
  • In the case of "That was a day my dog died (type, or kind of the day)", could you suppose an actual example and add it to your question? I think it is possible to have a date in it, but it would have to refer to something other than a specific date. – user3169 Jul 12 '16 at 3:53
  • @user3169 Yes. "He bought the house with a big backyard. This combination tells the listener which specific house he bought." "He bought a house with a big backyard. This combination tells the listener what kind of house he bought, but not the specific house he bought." englishpage.com/articles/a-an-vs-the.htm – whitedevil Jul 12 '16 at 18:04
  • But by using "a date" you are trying to say the dog died on an unspecified day, which is not possible since you specified the date. – user3169 Jul 12 '16 at 18:15
  • @user3169 What if I just use "that was" instead of a specific date like July 6 1980? – whitedevil Jul 12 '16 at 18:23
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Unless your dog is capable of dying more than once, it does not make sense to say

July 16, 1999 is a date on which my dog died.

A better example of using a for a date would be

July 16, 1999 is an important date for me because my dog died on that day.

You could have many dates that are important to you, but there can only be one day on which your dog died, so it must be

July 16, 1999 is the date on which my dog died.

A couple of comments: date on which is much more widely used than *date at which. It would be much more idiomatic to use the day that, for example:

July 16, 1999 is the day that my dog died.

  • 2
    Or simply, July 16, 1999 is the day my dog died. We don't even need the "that". In many contexts, My dog died on July 16, 1999 might be even better. – J.R. Jul 12 '16 at 8:46
  • "He bought the house with a big backyard. This combination tells the listener which specific house he bought." "He bought a house with a big backyard. This combination tells the listener what kind of house he bought, but not the specific house he bought." englishpage.com/articles/a-an-vs-the.htm So doesn't "a" day and "the" day work the same way? I mean, there is only one house he bought, as there is only one day that the dog died on. – whitedevil Jul 12 '16 at 18:08
  • @whitedevil: You can use a for a kind of day, but you have to choose a kind that there can be more than one of: a weekday, a thursday, a rainy day, a busy day, a fourth of july, but not a fourth of july 1999. There is only one house that he bought, but there are many with a big backyard. – JavaLatte Jul 13 '16 at 2:52
  • Thank you! So "a" can be used only when there is more than one substance that "a" is modifying? But it does not always mean that there is more than one substance which the indefinite article is modifying, right? ell.stackexchange.com/questions/93980/… Here is a similar question from which I became curious. The answerer stated that, in case of "a book I told you about", If you say "this is a book I told you about yesterday," it might suggest that it was one of several books, or it might mean that you don't think I remember it. So can there be just one and only one substance and "a" is.... – whitedevil Jul 13 '16 at 17:57
  • ....still used? – whitedevil Jul 13 '16 at 17:57
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You are correct about how you used "the" to identify the specific day your dog died.

That was a day my dog died

To me, on first hearing this sentence, it doesn't sound like you had more than one dog and one of them died on that day. The sentence implies there was one dog, and it died on more than one day. Of course this doesn't make sense and listeners may realise you mean you had more than one dog, but they might not. Either way the sentence will be confusing. However, this is easily fixed by implying you had more than one dog:

That was a day one of my dogs died.

  • "He bought the house with a big backyard. This combination tells the listener which specific house he bought." "He bought a house with a big backyard. This combination tells the listener what kind of house he bought, but not the specific house he bought." englishpage.com/articles/a-an-vs-the.htm So doesn't "a" day and "the" day work the same way? I mean, there is only one house he bought, as there is only one day that the dog died on. – whitedevil Jul 12 '16 at 18:32

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