An average family ... OR The average family ...?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by mountainriver, Jan 14, 2013.

  1. mountainriver New Member

    Hello, when I study English, I see this sentence: 'The average American family produces three pounds of trash a day.' It's on my textbook and it's not composed by native-speakers. I wonder why they used 'the' in that sentence. Can I use 'an' instead? Because I think the sentence refers to a general American family, not a specific one. Or is it OK to use both? Are 'An average American family ...' and 'The average American family ...' both correct and do they have the same meaning? Thank you very much.
  2. boozer Senior Member

    Both work and have the same pragmatic meaning.

    However, if I had to dig deep, I would probably come to this:

    an average family - there are several groups of families: below average, average and above average. An average family would be any family belonging to the group of average families.

    the average family - this would be a statistical concept generated by applying certain statistical critera and no single family would be exactly the same as 'the average family'. 'The average family' only exists as a statistical concept.

    Bot all of the above is probably not necessary. I think it works either way.
  3. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I agree with Boozer that both are correct, though they are often used in different contexts.

    I suspect we sometimes use the definite article in this context because the average family is a statistical concept, something we read about when journalists and statisticialns wish to talk about typical characteristics.

    An average family sounds slightly deprecatory, for some reason. It's an expression one might use to talk about a real family one knows, one which doesn't seem to depart much from the norm.
  4. mountainriver New Member

    I got it now. Thank you very much.

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