along the/a road

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Bombist

Member
Ukrainian
Two blondes were driving along a road by a wheat field when they saw a blonde in the middle of the field rowing a row boat.
Two men are carrying a sedan chair between them along a road, others walk behind with yokes across their shoulders.
A plane is flying along a road with a constant speed of 600 km,h towards a point on the road.
A commuter travels to work along a road with many traffic signals. After stopping at one red light the commuter accelerates at 2 m/s22.
from some Internet sources

but then...

While they were disputing with much heat and bluster, a Traveler passed along the road wrapped in a cloak.
The North Wind and The Sun

To me all these examples are very similar. What is the rule (or the exception) that determines "a" in the batch of examples and "the" in the last instance?
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In the first 4, the road is unspecified. In the last one, it’s a particular road that’s already known to the reader or listener.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Well, there is no particular road in The North and the Sun until the traveller comes along, so we have to take 'the road' as generic, like the mountains or the seaside. It's just a part of the world: trees grow in the forest, and the traveller walks on the road. This is more appropriate for a folk tale like this.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    :thumbsup: Yes, you’re right. I’d assumed there was more context before that quote, but that’s not the case (I checked).
     

    Bombist

    Member
    Ukrainian
    In the first 4, the road is unspecified. In the last one, it’s a particular road that’s already known to the reader or listener.
    Does it mean that I cannot predict which article will be placed by the speaker with 100% precision?
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Well, you can never predict that. But it's not arbitrary: this is a folk tale where we don't care about particular roads, we just have a location for the story. Another story could begin:

    Two friends meet in the street, and one says . . .

    The idea is just that they meet in a/the street, not at home or at school or on holiday. We don't care about the street.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    In many (probably most?) situations it can only be one or the other. But in some situations either one will be suitable. It's in the second situation that you can't predict what an individual speaker will say.

    Two blondes were driving along a road by a wheat field when they saw a blonde in the middle of the field rowing a row boat.

    We don't know anything about this situation. This sentence is setting the scene, i.e. introducing the subjects of the situation. It's telling you there are two people and a road. Using "a" is appropriate because it's new information. If it was only one blonde in the car it would be:

    A blonde was driving along a road by a wheat field when she saw a blonde in the middle of the field rowing a row boat.

    "The blonde was driving" would be wrong because we don't know anything about a blonde being there until those words. (We also don't know anything about the wheat field, the other blonde or the row boat before starting the sentence. [Notice I use "the" because the sentence above introduces them to our mind.]) [Notice also that "the" (in red) is used the second time the field is referred to in the sentence, because it's already introduced earlier in the sentence with "a" (in blue).]

    In this sentence, things are different:

    While they were disputing with much heat and bluster, a Traveler passed along the road wrapped in a cloak.

    This is not an introductory sentence setting the scene. This is a reference to an ongoing scene. It refers to "they", which have to be people already known to the reader. We don't know they are standing in a road but we know they can't be standing in two roads. So when the sentence introduces the road, we know it's the road where they are. If it was written "a road" we wouldn't know if the road was anywhere near "they" or connected with them in any way. The phrase "a road" could indicate any road in the world.
     
    Last edited:

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Although in the North Wind example this is the first mention of the road, the context (such as it is) suffices to make "passed along a road" incorrect in this case. They don't mean an arbitrary or generic road, but the road near the scene where the winds were having their quarrel.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes. It’s all about whether whatever is being referred to can be assumed to be known to/understood by the reader – or, indeed, whether it needs to be.

    In all the first 4 examples, you could replace a with some:
    [He] was walking/driving along some road [or other] (never mind which road) …
     
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