I want to get rid of 'article' confusion once and for all!



I know there are innumerable questions about 'articles' on this and other sites on the Internet. I always try to learn them but some or the other way, they play tricks on me. In other words, I am never positive when I use them, in short. If two articles weren't enough to spin my head, the concept of 'zero article' or 'anarthrous' served as another nail in the coffin! :)

At times, I understand them perfectly but sometimes, I commit blunders! I want to solve this once and for all. I thought a lot and then am finally coming up with some sentences that would help clear my (and many others'?) doubts (hopefully).

Help me understand the subtlety of these sentences.

  1. A crown cork of a bottle
  2. A crown cork of the bottle
  3. The crown cork of a bottle
  4. The crown cork of the bottle

My understanding about those sentences:

  1. Any crown cork of any bottle (but then is that crown related to that bottle is the question!)
  2. I'm going to a shop with a bottle in my hand and asking for a crown cork that fits the only bottle in my hand
  3. There is only one crown cork in front of me. I'm telling that this is the crown cork that can fit any bottle
  4. The bottle and the crown cork both are right in front of me. That crown cork fits to only that bottle.

Answerers, please mind that I haven't introduced any bottle or crown cork previously! I'm ready for detailed answers. :)

Maulik V

Posted 2015-01-07T09:44:13.707

Reputation: 66 188

If you haven't introduced the item previously (and it isn't unique) then you have no business using 'the' -- use a demonstrative like 'this' instead. – amI – 2018-10-01T08:22:15.187

What is the crown of a bottle? A crown cork? (just to make sure) – CowperKettle – 2015-01-07T10:06:33.533

Some clues for advanced learners (on articles in general): What is unique? What is specific? What is generic? What is definite? What is indefinite? – Damkerng T. – 2015-01-07T10:28:52.533

@CopperKettle yes, crown cork, adding. In India, crown is understood but I'll now use this! Thank you! :) – Maulik V – 2015-01-07T10:40:39.903

I suppose that means 'bottle cap'. – None – 2015-01-07T12:04:54.117

You have four noun-phrases, not four sentences. I think without context it will be impossible to say exactly what each one means. – bdsl – 2015-02-13T00:18:02.030



A less formal use of "a crown cork of a bottle" - bottles are presumed to have only one mouth:

  1. We were playing in the back-yard when Jim noticed something shiny, a roundish sliver of metal half-dug in the ground. "It could be a crown cork of a bottle ," I said.

The non-standard use fixed by Jim to the more formal the + a combination:

  1. "I see," said Jim. "But bottles have only one crown cork, so you'd better say the crown cork of a bottle."

The "standard" use of the definite article in relation to things already introduced (the bottle) or implied (the crown cork):

  1. "My dad once bought a very fancy bottle of beer, and after opening it he gave the crown of the bottle to me. It had a nice emblem on it," I said.

A sentence I constructed to make use of "a cork of the bottle":

  1. "Oh, yeah," said he. "I wish that bottle had two mouths. Then you could get a crown cork of the bottle, and I could get a crown cork too.

According to this Google Ngram proposed by Damkerng, your options 1 and 2 are either non-existent or rare as hen's teeth. But I'm not totally sure. If I'm wrong, let someone correct me.


Posted 2015-01-07T09:44:13.707

Reputation: 36 949

1+1 for the story. Also, my thinking is close to yours! :) – Maulik V – 2015-01-07T11:06:47.623

@MaulikV - wait until a native speaker has his say, 'cause I'm unsure whether option 1 is really erroneous. (0: Damkerng in says it isn't (in the chat). – CowperKettle – 2015-01-07T11:10:51.540

1As a native speaker, 1) is quite natural, at least in speech. Using 'The' might be slightly better, but number one wouldn't catch my attention for being off. – Karen – 2015-01-07T14:49:15.073

Thank you, @Karen! I changed my wording a bit, to "more formal/less formal" to show that the a/a combination is possible. – CowperKettle – 2015-01-07T14:51:36.610

1I think 1 sounds a little weird, but I probably wouldn't think too much of it. I'd think you'd be more likely to hear 'from a bottle', than 'of a bottle' in that case, though. – Alan Third – 2015-01-07T14:55:11.950

Very interesting, @AlanThird! Would that imply that the cork could've been inside the bottle, one of many corks inside that bottle? Or would that mean "a cork of the kind used to close bottles"? – CowperKettle – 2015-01-07T14:57:07.790

1I think, since we're discussing bottles, the cork is almost always going to have been in a bottle at some time. So yes to your first question. I can't rule out that we'd use that phrase for the second too. I'm unsure. – Alan Third – 2015-01-07T15:05:10.493

@AlanThird - but a crown cork is sitting atop a bottle, it does not go inside, and would not unless persuaded.. I hope some native speaker would write his separate answer to throw some light on sentence 1. – CowperKettle – 2015-01-07T15:07:46.810

1I didnt know what a crown cork is. :) i think that it would still go with the bottle and so we'd say it's from a bottle. I'm not entirely sure, though. – Alan Third – 2015-01-07T15:10:08.000

1I just looked up a crown cork. I would call that a bottle top, so there would never be any ambiguity. This is maybe why im struggling to think how we'd discuss it. – Alan Third – 2015-01-07T15:15:34.557

http://www.bullworks.net/virtual/infopages/crowncork.htm – Jasper – 2015-01-07T19:24:20.257