Do we always have to use the definite article "the" for specific object that both the person speaking and the listener know? For example, "The car over there is fast." I'm confused. If the speaker and the listener are seeing the car for for the first time, is it wrong to use a/an or not? "A car over there is fast."Both "The car over there is fast" and "A car over there is fast" are correct sentences. However, the meaning is not the same. You can be grammatically correct and still get the meaning wrong. Conversely, you can get the meaning right and make a grammatical mistake. Which do you think is more important? Do you want to make sense or do you want to sound good? Of course you want both, but effective communication is always more important.
The car over there is fast = That specific car over there is fast. Maybe there is only one car over there. It does not really matter whether or not the speaker and the listener "know" or have seen the specific car before as long as it is clear that the reference is to a particular car. Using modifiers helps too.
There is a fast car over there = one of the cars over there is fast; somewhere over there is a fast car
You can add modifiers (The black BMW with the chrome luggage rack is a fast car) or rephrase. In the second sentence, "There is a fast car over there" would be a better construction.
Articles are such small words but are big contributors to confusion and lack of clarity. They are not alone though. What are some others? Knowing what they are and why or how they make what you say or write unclear helps. You know where to look for problems when you edit. Also as you become more aware, you will be able to avoid problems.
Other problem areas:
Slang and colloquial or idiomatic expressions
Why do you think these problem areas interfere with meaning? What are your major problem areas? Are there others not on this list that you can think of?
- Sentence clarity handout - basic strategies for improving sentence clarity in general (not grammar specific except for pronoun reference)
- Representation of English articles in 2nd language grammar
- The use & non-use of articles
- Teaching definite and indefinite articles
- ESL article use