I need a potato. A potato is what I need.

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RafaelX

Senior Member
Polish
"Hello" to everyone!

I need to ask native English users if it is possible (and if yes, then in what context) to say: "I need a potato. THE potato is what I need." Could somebody imagine situation in which one could say/write something like this?

Rafael
 
  • Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    Welcome to the forums, RafaelX.

    By forum rules, it's up to you to provide the context.

    "I need a potato" is a grammatically correct sentence.

    "The potato is what I need" is also a grammatically correct sentence, depending on the situation. You would have to be referring to a specific potato for which you had a need.
     

    RafaelX

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Well, I had some problems with imagining the context and did not want to write anything stupid. :) There is no real context, I was just trying to figure out if these two sentences used one after the other can be grammatically correct. What I CAN imagine is that a person is talking to a friend and says: "I need a potato." At the same time they are walking past a grocery shop, he/she sees a potato on the display and then says: "The (meaning: "this particular") potato is what I need." Is this a correct usage? Would you say something like that yourself?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Hello, RafaelX, welcome to the forum.

    You are interested in whether it's possible to use a phrase with the definite article after referring to the same thing with an indefinite article: a potato / the potato

    I can't think of any situation where I would make that shift in articles. After saying "I need a potato", I would surely say "a potato is what I need" rather than "the potato is what I need".
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I must admit that I don't agree. There is absolutely no need to 'match' like this. The normal rules for choice of article apply.

    Say you know that a friend has a potato and a carrot and a parsnip, and you know he has them.

    You tell him that you are going to make a soup and he offers you a parsnip. You might very well say to him: 'I need a potato; the potato is what I need'.

    A potato initially, because your need is for a potato, not for a specific potato.

    The potato in the second case, because you've been offered the parsnip and you know he has a potato, so you say you want the potato.
     
    Last edited:
    TT:Say you know that a friend has a potato and a carrot and a parsnip, and you know he has them.

    Thomas, this is what makes your odd example work; a reference for 'the potato' is established before the conversational exchange, and it's a reference you've stipulated will be understandable by both parties.

    In any case, if we are exercizing imagination, how about this:

    TT:You tell him that you are going to make a soup and he offers you a parsnip. You might very well say to him: 'I need a potato; the potato is what I need'

    [bennymix continues] He replies. "I doubt you really need *this* potato. I'm saving it to plant in the garden. Can I get you a potato from the pantry?"
     
    What my continuation suggests, but does not 'prove, is that even given the special circumstances stipulated by TT, it is NOT actually a case where "The potato is what I need" accurately applies. Indeed the stated need was for *a* potato. There is no special train of events that made that potato *the* one; it's only a matter of happenstance.

    Contrast TT's example of what I call happenstance, with my example of 'the', used in parallel, in post #8.
     

    srk

    Senior Member
    English - US
    If we are exercising imagination, there aren't any other potatoes available. I need a potato. Since there aren't any others, yours is the potato I need. You have a potato, a carrot and a parsnip. The potato is what I need.

    Your example is one that forces a parallelism that is not required generally, bennymix.
     
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    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Welcome to the English forum, RafaelX.

    I am puzzled by what you want to say.
    In the context you give in #3, the certainly doesn't work. In that situation I would say That's the (kind of) potato I need.
     

    srk

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Bennymix and e2efour are right in that any situation in which a reference using "a" followed by one using "the" is going to be a contrived situation.
     

    RafaelX

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Welcome to the English forum, RafaelX.

    I am puzzled by what you want to say.
    :) I am telling you that I DO NOT want to say anything like it (under such circumstances I would say "This/That is the kind of potato I need."). I just want to know if it is something one COULD say or not. It's as simple as that.

    Thank you all for your answers, it's very nice of you. :)
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    We are asked if there are situations where one might say X. The language is very adaptable and we don't know what is going to happen to us, yet when we find situations in which one might say X, people talk of 'happenstance' and 'contrived' situations.

    Some people write as though they have yet to experience the infinite variety of life.
     

    RafaelX

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Say you know that a friend has a potato and a carrot and a parsnip, and you know he has them.

    You tell him that you are going to make a soup and he offers you a parsnip. You might very well say to him: 'I need a potato; the potato is what I need'.

    A potato initially, because your need is for a potato, not for a specific potato.

    The potato in the second case, because you've been offered the parsnip and you know he has a potato, so you say you want the potato.

    That is a very clever example btw, Thomas! In that situation such combination could really work. :)
     
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