Study this example:
I had a sandwich and an apple for lunch.
The sandwich wasn’t very good, but the apple was delicious.
John says “a sandwich” and “an apple” because this is the first time he talks about them.
John now says “the sandwich” and “the apple because Karen knows which sandwich and which apple he means – the sandwich and the apple that he had for lunch.”
Compare a and the in these examples:
– A man and a woman ware sitting across from me. The man was American, but I think the woman was British.
– When we were on vacation, we stayed at a hotel. Sometimes we ate at the hotel, and sometimes we went to a restaurant.
We use the when we are thinking of one specific thing.
Compare a/an and the:
– Tim sat down on a chair. (perhaps one of many chairs in the room)
Tim sat down on the chair nearest the door. (a specific chair)
- Paula is looking for a job. (not a specific job)
Did Paula get the job she applied for? (a specific job)
Do you have a car? (not a specific car)
I washed the car yesterday. (= my car)
We use the when it is clear in the situation which thing or person we mean.
For example, in a room we talk about the light / the floor / the ceiling / the door / the carpet, etc:
– Can you turn off the light, please? (= the light in this room)
– I took a taxi to the station. (= the station in that town)
– (in a store) I’d like to speak to the manager, please. (= the manager of this store)
In the same way, we say (go to) the bank, the post office:
– I have to go to the bank and then I’m going to the post office.
(The speaker is usually thinking of a specific bank or post office.)
We also say (go to) the doctor / the dentist / the hospital:
– Carol isn’t very well. She went to the doctor. (= her usual doctor)
– Two people were taken to the hospital after the accident.
Compare the and a:
– I have to go to the bank today.
Is there a bank near here?
– I don’t like going to the dentist.
My sister is a dentist.
We say “once a week / three times a day / $1.59 a pound,” etc,:
– “How often do you go to the movies?” “About once a month”
– “How much are those potatoes?” “A dollar a pound.”
– Helen works eight hours a day, six days a week