What's the difference in meaning between "a last man" and "the last man"? In what situations would you rather say "a last man"
instead of "the last man"? For a non-native speaker like me, the usage of "a" and "the" is very difficult.
I'm sorry I could not have replied sooner. Let me cast my question in another way. I learned from grammar books that we basically use the difinite article, i.e. "the", for nouns with ordinals. But we come across many examples where nouns with ordinals are preceded by "a," such as in "At the event, a first for New York Macy's,..." Is there a difference in meaning if you say "At the event, the first for New York..." I presume there is a similar difference, if any, between "a last man" and "the last man."
Thank you very much in advance.
"At the event, a first for New York Macy's,..." means that the event was the first time that Macy's had ever staged such an event.
"At the event, the first for New York Macy's,..." sounds a little unnatural to me, but could mean that the event was the first of a proposed or assumed series of such events.
It doesn't seem likely to me that these meanings can be transfered to the 'last man' question. I still don't understand what you want 'last man' to mean. Can you give a couple of sentences in which you might say 'last man' - one with 'a' and one with 'the', so we can compare them.
Many thanks for your patience. Though the word "last" is not used in it, I came across with a sentence that may help clarify my question. The example is as follows:"Shortly before April 7, the last day anonymous contributions could be legally accepted, Stans had gone on A FINAL fund-raising swing across the Southwest."
My questions is if the writer had written "...had gone on THE FINAL fund-raising swing...," did he mean something different? He is talking about the one final fund-raising swing, right? If there is only one swing, why did he use "a" instead of "the"? That's what I wanted to ask about the difference between "a last man" and "the last man." I hope I made myself a little clearer to you this time.
I'd say you need the indefinite article 'a' to introduce the noun phrase 'final fund-raising swing' because it doesn't refer to a specific event outside its limited context: for each campaign, fundraisers all over the world go on 'final fund-raising swings' so that over the years, there have been thousands upon thousands of them. In other words, it's not enough that this is the final swing for Stans; the noun phrase in itself would have to refer to something unique in order to be introduced with the definite article 'the'.