a/the 12-year cycle

redgiant

Senior Member
Cantonese, Hong Kong
Example: Lucky years are determined by the Chinese zodiac, a 12-year cycle with one of 12 animals assigned to each year.
Source: Chinese Fortune: What Are Your Lucky and Unlucky Years?

Consider that the animal designations are always used in the same sequence and repeat every 12 year, is it okay to use the definite article "the 12-year cycle" instead of "a 12-year cycle"? Does that merit the definite article?
 
  • lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    The question is whether there are other possible 12-year cycles. Out of all the potential 12-year cycles, the Chinese zodiac is only one of them, which is why we use "a" here.
     

    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    It only merits the definite article if you can expect your readers to know about this 12-year cycle. So if the concept of the 12-year cycle has already been explained, "the" works OK, and it's also OK if you have reasonable expectations that your readers will already be familiar with it.

    But here, out of context, "a 12-year cycle" sounds best to me.
     
    Last edited:

    redgiant

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Thank you lucas and JustKate. I just had a quick look around on Google and it seems there are other 12 year-cycles similar to the Chinese zodiac in some Asian countries. Combine this with the fact that the quoted text is taken from the beginning of an introductory article on the animal designations, so the indefinite article is the much better option.
     
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