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should it be 'a' or 'the'? yes, a grammar question!

(26 Posts)
LovePGtipsMonkey Sat 16-Jul-16 11:28:56

I wish a grammar buff explained to me once and for all the subtleties of it!

Have argued (peacefully) with someone over a card with an image of a child on swings. I was putting a message inside referring to that particular picture and the swing in the picture. So is it 'the child on a swing' or 'this child on the swing' if I'm referring to the swing in the pic and not some general one. Otoh it's a generic-looking swing in the picture. Arghh!

acasualobserver Sat 16-Jul-16 11:32:02

There is not a right answer here. The choice of article will depend on context and intention.

wowfudge Sat 16-Jul-16 11:32:27

'The child on the swing' would be better.

AtiaoftheJulii Sat 16-Jul-16 11:32:51

I think I'd say "the child on the swing" - assuming you're saying something like "the child on the swing reminds me of X at the park"

StarlingMurmuration Sat 16-Jul-16 11:35:53

Another vote for "the child on the swing". In both cases, you're referring to a particular thing, so you need to use the definite article - "the". I think.

Haffdonga Sat 16-Jul-16 11:48:38

I think 'the child on a swing' sounds more natural, unless specifically referring to the one swing in the picture.

e.g. I like the picture of the child on a swing.
The swing the child is on is like the one in your back garden.

PS There is a MN pedants' corner specially for people like us you.

Iwasbornin1993 Sat 16-Jul-16 11:52:13

I'd also write "the child on the swing"

durezz Sat 16-Jul-16 11:59:51

Definitely 'THE CHILD ON THE SWING' since you are referring to the one on the picture.
If there were loads of swings I can understand it being the other way

LovePGtipsMonkey Sat 16-Jul-16 12:49:43

thank you! surprised that majority vote is for 'the' .

that's the thing Halfdonga, it sounds a mouthful with two 'the' s close together, child on a swing sounds natural. 'This child..' sounds better

The context is just to wish someone to take some time for relaxation 'just like this child on a/the swing' (looking happy). The actual swing is not the focus i.e. comparing to another swing, Half.

OneMillionScovilles Sat 16-Jul-16 13:17:43

The/the in general. But in your context, "just like this child on a swing" is best.

Cleanhousedirtyhouse Sat 16-Jul-16 13:28:37


UnGoogleable Sat 16-Jul-16 13:35:25

I think "This child.." sounds odd. So I'd go for The/the too.

LovePGtipsMonkey Sat 16-Jul-16 19:42:27

great, thanks. But just proves again that there's no hard rules - context for some makes 'a' an option.

Noonesfool Sat 16-Jul-16 19:45:42

"Take some time out, be like a child on a swing"

Noonesfool Sat 16-Jul-16 19:46:17

They can make the connection to the specific picture themselves.

MissClarke86 Sat 16-Jul-16 20:35:35

There isn't a rule as such, but you were correct in what you said originally.

'The' swing means a particular swing.

'A' swing just means any old swing. It's a less specific reference.

If, for example, there was 3 different swings and you said "sit on a swing" I'd just pick any. If you said "sit on the swing" I'd ask you which swing you were referring to.

Hope that helps.

ImperialBlether Sat 16-Jul-16 20:38:10

'A' is not specific, so if you were talking about someone you'd seen in passing to someone who hadn't seen them, you could say, "I saw a child on a swing.'

'The' is specific in the same way that 'that' is - so, you'd say to someone in the same park, "My child is on the swing" meaning 'that one, over there.'

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Sat 16-Jul-16 22:18:14

Why not 'The child on this swing'?

'This' is deictic - that means, it has the same function in written words, as a pointing finger might in conversation. So, if you are imagining yourself referring to 'the child in this swing' and the swing in the picture, you want 'this'.

If in your OP, you'd said you referring to the child in the picture, you might use 'This child in the swing'.

But TBH, all the options are quite similar, with little to choose between them, and none is incorrect.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Sat 16-Jul-16 22:31:01

The child on the swing. Specific child on a specific swing.

This child sounds odd-as if you had to identify "this child" from another child.

Propertyquandry Sat 16-Jul-16 22:34:44

The definite article (the) as you're referring to a particular swing i.e the one in the picture.

green18 Sat 16-Jul-16 22:35:40

I think i'd say the child on the swing but if you're referring to the swing only then I'd say the swing that the child is on or the swing in the picture.

DCITennison Sat 16-Jul-16 22:44:04

The/this child on a swing doesn't sound right because it refers to a specific child on a non-specific swing.

The child/the swing or a child/a swing. Keeps it all in the same context, less muddled.

Not your actual question but I'd have "a child on a swing" even though you're referring to a specific image because you're referring to the sentiment of the image.

HeteronormativeHaybales Sat 16-Jul-16 22:46:41

Assuming what you wrote in the card was something like 'The [picture of the] child on [the/a] swing reminded me of xyz':

My thought is that if you had the 'This picture of...' intro actually there, 'a' would be more appropriate, as you are attaching a descriptive phrase to the whole image, which is "child on a swing". Without, I think 'the' would be more usual/natural, because the reference is more specific.

Compare 'I went to X's house and she has a picture of a child on a swing on her wall' and, in the park, 'That child on the swing [where there might be a number of swings or just one - ie which swing it is isn't actually important] has a nice coat on'.

I think this is a subtlety that is v hard to circumscribe in an exact 'rule'.

LovePGtipsMonkey Sat 16-Jul-16 22:59:55

I do generally understand the meaning of 'the' and 'a', MissC and Imperial. Not an issue for me when there is a nummber of objects (swings) - but in this case there's only one in the picture but in a way it's a generic swing, and as others say it's about a sentiment. My message, as I said, would have been 'you need to have some fun (or whatever) like a child on a swing' , the question is what's correct if there is a picture right there, and that's what made me choose the card.
I think posters who say it's a sentiment are probably correct (so a/a) and I also agree that 'this' is too specific and prob odd - thanks!
But the poster who said it'd be also correct to use the/the, has a point that the recipient can make the connection themselves. It's whether I need to 'help' with that or not. Anyway this made for interesting and useful reading.

Propertyquandry Sun 17-Jul-16 14:23:18

Reading your last message I'd change my mind and go with 'a child on a swing'.
I think sentiment like that is always better and more powerful in the abstract rather than being specific. It actually takes away from the witty sentiment if you use 'the' in this context. And in fact you are not actually referring the that particular child or swing at all. But rather the sentiment of being carefree.

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