A birthday card/gift

Calcutta Miss

Member
Hindi - India
Hi,

A group of people are discussing an upcoming birthday party for a friend who isn't present. Does this sentence look acceptable to you native speakers?

"And who will buy a birthday card? John?" "And who will buy a gift? Mary?"

No birthday card or gift has been mentioned. I think "a" is fine. It's not like we have a birthday card or a previously identified gift that we are looking at.

On the other hand, I suppose that since we know there is a birthday coming up, there will be a birthday card and a gift involved, so even though we have not identified either (we don't know what gift someone will buy), it's the birthday card and gift that the friend will get, whatever we end up buying. So I suppose "the" can be acceptable too?

I am not even sure if this is a question of which one is right, but which one is better than the other. Can a native speaker please help me?
 
  • Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Yes, you can use either one. With the card, it doesn't matter. With the gift, "the" suggests that there is already some agreement about what sort of gift to get, while "a" leaves this question completely unanswered. This is only a weak suggestion. The meanings are very close.
     

    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    I would just - if I may - offer an alternative to Egmont's 'With the gift, "the" suggests that there is already some agreement about what sort of gift to get', which could certainly apply. The alternative interpretation, I feel, is pretty much as you described it, Calcutta Miss. In the context, that's what is expected in that group of work colleagues. Someone's birthday is coming up and it's the custom, the tradition, the done thing to get them a card and a gift. That's what always happens. It may not have been "agreed" as such, but it's expected or taken as read or taken for granted, it's par for the course, it goes with the territory.
     

    Calcutta Miss

    Member
    Hindi - India
    I would just - if I may - offer an alternative to Egmont's 'With the gift, "the" suggests that there is already some agreement about what sort of gift to get', which could certainly apply. The alternative interpretation, I feel, is pretty much as you described it, Calcutta Miss. In the context, that's what is expected in that group of work colleagues. Someone's birthday is coming up and it's the custom, the tradition, the done thing to get them a card and a gift. That's what always happens. It may not have been "agreed" as such, but it's expected or taken as read or taken for granted, it's par for the course, it goes with the territory.
    Thank you, Enquiring Mind. But you don't disagree with Egmont and my feeling that either is grammatical for this context?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Just a PS: I think the version with "a" might be ambiguous.

    With "the", it's clear that there's going to be only one card and one present, and that everyone is clubbing together to buy that card and that present.

    With "a", it could be that there will be multiple cards and presents. Some people are going to buy cards, and some people are going to buy presents; the speaker wants to know who is going to buy which.

    Perhaps it's just me?
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    I completely agree with Loob regarding the ambiguity of "a". If there is to be only one card that will be signed by everyone, and only one birthday present (which is the term I would use instead of "gift"), then I would use only "the", and not "a", in these sentences.
     

    Calcutta Miss

    Member
    Hindi - India
    <-----Threads have been merged at this point by moderator (Florentia52)----->
    Hi,
    <…>
    If I dispatch my husband to buy a birthday card for someone, he comes back, I ask him, "Did you remember to pick up a card?"

    The "a card" is okay, right? It's not like we established a certain card that he has to buy, "that one". Any will do. So the question is "Did you remember to pick up any card".

    It's the same with a birthday present (unless we decided in advance what we wanted to get, which is how it's usually done). "Did you remember to buy a present?" (unless we agreed what to buy).

    Sorry if these are obvious questions to you, it's more difficult for someone like myself.
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    If I dispatch my husband to buy a birthday card for someone, he comes back, I ask him, "Did you remember to pick up a card?"

    The "a card" is okay, right? It's not like we established a certain card that he has to buy, "that one". Any will do. So the question is "Did you remember to pick up any card".

    It's the same with a birthday present (unless we decided in advance what we wanted to get, which is how it's usually done). "Did you remember to buy a present?" (unless we agreed what to buy).
    I agree with you. In this situation, I would say "a card" and "a present."
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    That's a different context: you're only talking to one person. If you're talking to several people, "Did you remember to pick up a card?" could also be ambiguous.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top