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How 'the' and 'a' get mixed up

by: Garry Pierrepont (22 August 2014)

If ever you wanted a demonstration of how proofreading services can improve a piece of writing, consider this. In carrying out my duties as a proofreader recently I have been confronted with many dissertations written by students from overseas studying in the UK.

I am not sure why it is the case, but our friends from overseas struggle with the use of the definite article (the) and the indefinite article (a), mixing them up, interchanging them, inserting them and omitting them.

I do not want to embarrass anybody by using a real example, but let us take an old local football report:

"With an opening of season bringing the three straight defeats for first team, it was important that they got some points on a table. With 'pitch one' at the Shalford still resembling the tufty car park and new look team still trying to gel, it was never going to be the day for the slick continental passing. With home side starting with the five across a midfield first 15 minutes were evenly balanced. Latter part of half however, saw the Ockham put home team's defence under the pressure with barrage of the long balls."

Of course the original actually read like this:

"With the opening of the season bringing three straight defeats for the first team, it was important that they got some points on the table. With 'pitch one' at Shalford still resembling a tufty car park and a new look team still trying to gel, it was never going to be a day for slick continental passing. With the home side starting with five across midfield the first 15 minutes were evenly balanced. The latter part of the half however, saw Ockham put the home team's defence under pressure with a barrage of long balls."

I'm not quite sure why there is a mix-up in the use of articles, but I'm sure you'll agree that getting them right makes for much easier reading. The facts are all there in the first piece, but reading it would give most people a headache.

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Ref: 104 The rules for the definite article, 'the' and the indefinite 'a' seem to follow no real logic and are actually quite complex so it can be really difficult for overseas people to get them right, depending on their first language and whether it uses the article.
Marilyn - 20:49 03-09-2014
Ref: 103 I couldn't agree more. Having proofed so many overseas student dissertations, I've found it's one of the commonest problems and if it's not right, it changes the entire meaning of a sentence
Romany - 12:46 22-08-2014

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