Indefinite article with ordinal number: released as <a> third single

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JungKim

Senior Member
Korean
(1) The song was released as a third single from this album.
(2) The song was released as the third single from this album.

A general rule says that "the" should come before an ordinal number like "third". But a native speaker told me that (1) as well as (2) is grammatical. Can anyone tell me how I can reconcile (1) with the general rule?

Also, if there is a clear difference in meaning between (1) and (2), please let me know.
 
  • heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    (2) sounds a lot more natural than (1). I'm trying to think of a situation where (1) might be preferable, but I'm failing.

    You can use 'a third' in sentences like 'He ate a third of the cake', or 'She had her nails painted for a third time' . . . and many more - but not, in my opinion, in (1)
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I'm not sure where your rule comes from. I would say the general rule about using the for definite reference (something that can be identified or picked out - because it's been mentioned before or it can be inferred from the context) and a for indefinite reference.

    So, you say things like, 'I made a second attempt for the prize', 'The second attempt was successful.' These are grammatical.

    Both your sentences are fine for me, and I would say there isn't much difference in meaning between them. If you have mentioned about singles from the album, then (2) is required. He released four singles from this album. 'This love' and 'Your love' were released initially. 'Her love' was released as the third single, and finally 'His love' as the fourth.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    (2) sounds a lot more natural than (1). I'm trying to think of a situation where (1) might be preferable, but I'm failing.

    You can use 'a third' in sentences like 'He ate a third of the cake', or 'She had her nails painted for a third time' . . . and many more - but not, in my opinion, in (1)
    For what it's worth, I Googled "was released as a third single" and "was released as the third single" with 12,900,000 and 5,580,000 hits, respectively. Any thoughts on this?
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I'm not sure where your rule comes from. I would say the general rule about using the for definite reference (something that can be identified or picked out - because it's been mentioned before or it can be inferred from the context) and a for indefinite reference.

    So, you say things like, 'I made a second attempt for the prize', 'The second attempt was successful.' These are grammatical.

    Both your sentences are fine for me, and I would say there isn't much difference in meaning between them. If you have mentioned about singles from the album, then (2) is required. He released four singles from this album. 'This love' and 'Your love' were released initially. 'Her love' was released as the third single, and finally 'His love' as the fourth.
    Here's a link of the rule: http://www.grammaring.com/the-defin...djectives-only-next-last-same-right-and-wrong
     

    Istarion

    Senior Member
    British English
    JungKim,
    I find using Google results as usage statistics a bit of a dodgy method. I thought it was odd that you'd found that many exact matches for these phrases, so I checked the results myself. Google does indeed give massive numbers, but scrolling through the pages for a while revealed that Google thinks the number of unique results is only about 500 for "was released as the third single" and under 100 for "was released as a third single" (several of which are pages on this forum). After showing that number or results Google stops to tell you that all the other results are considered "very similar" to the ones already shown - which to me suggests they're likely to be duplicated articles or spam pages. I don't mean to imply that these numbers have much significance, but I do think it demonstrates very well the problem with basing anything on Google hits.
    -I
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I obviously haven't encountered this rule before and will say it's an over-generalisation. I agree with heypresto that statistically, you'll find the definite article with ordinals more often than indefinite articles. There are many instances of this in corpora, and I think the rule is not very helpful. We habitually say things like, 'Would you like a second/third helping?' (You cannot say 'Would you like the second/third helping?) or 'I gave it a second look.'
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I think the basic principle here is that 'the' picks out a unique referent and disregards the others. The third single is - er, a single single. Let's change the example. Police have arrested a second man. So now they've arrested two men - the first man and the second man. If police arrested the third man, they arrested number three out of some group (perhaps a line-up of ten), and only that one person is being talked about; but if they arrested a third man, that brings the group up to three. 'A third single' adds a third one to the existing two, so now we have three. 'The third single' picks out one single out of however many there are so far (at least three).
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Neither of those links to the Grammaring web site links to a rule. They both link to examples of how the definite and indefinite articles may be used, and they include examples of how they may be used with ordinal numbers.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    For what it's worth, I Googled "was released as a third single" and "was released as the third single" with 12,900,000 and 5,580,000 hits, respectively. Any thoughts on this?
    We're obviously using different Googles and different techniques. You can't simply quote the first number you see on the first page ... you need to click through to the last page of results, go to the bottom of the page, and look at that number.

    "was released as a third single": 68 results show on the first page, three of them this thread. No need to click through because this is the only page.
    "was released as the third single": the first page show 14 million hits, but if you click through to the last page, you'll see there are only 490 results.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I obviously haven't encountered this rule before and will say it's an over-generalisation. I agree with heypresto that statistically, you'll find the definite article with ordinals more often than indefinite articles. There are many instances of this in corpora, and I think the rule is not very helpful. We habitually say things like, 'Would you like a second/third helping?' (You cannot say 'Would you like the second/third helping?) or 'I gave it a second look.'
    First, I'd like to thank your for the clarification.
    Second, if that rule is an over-generalization, which I think it is, where can I find a more sophisticated rule with all the exceptions?
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    JungKim, you are looking for a rule that does not exist - there is not a rule for using articles with ordinals, there are just the usual ways of using definite and indefinite articles. entangledbank pointed out the principles in post #9.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    It might be worth pointing out that the ordinal is defining with 'the' and non-defining with 'a': if they've released a third single, they've released a single, which happens to be the third.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, it's just the normal rules for definite and indefinite articles. If it helps, a third should work if it can be replaced by another and the third with the other. (Might not work 100%, but this will be indicative, I think.)
     
    Last edited:

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I think the basic principle here is that 'the' picks out a unique referent and disregards the others. The third single is - er, a single single. Let's change the example. Police have arrested a second man. So now they've arrested two men - the first man and the second man. If police arrested the third man, they arrested number three out of some group (perhaps a line-up of ten), and only that one person is being talked about; but if they arrested a third man, that brings the group up to three. 'A third single' adds a third one to the existing two, so now we have three. 'The third single' picks out one single out of however many there are so far (at least three).
    Thanks for the explanation.
    See if I get it right.
    When I focus on the specific list of singles of the album, I can say "the third single from the album". But otherwise, I can say "a third single from the album", since there certainly are other "third singles" from other albums in the world??
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    We habitually say things like, 'Would you like a second/third helping?' (You cannot say 'Would you like the second/third helping?) or 'I gave it a second look.'
    Is it because we don't have a definite list of helpings or looks in mind when we say those sentences?
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Is it because we don't have a definite list of helpings or looks in mind when we say those sentences?
    Yes, and there can be multiple second helpings for different people. Or as etb says, they are non-defining.
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Yes, it's just the normal rules for definite and indefinite articles. If it helps, a third should work if it be replaced by another and the third with the other. (Might not work 100%, but this will be indicative, I think.)
    If not 100%, then 99%.:).

    He tried a third time and succeeded. We learn only now that there was a third time.
    The third time he tried, he succeeded. Here we say "the third time" because it is defined by the relative clause "(that) he tried".

    I'm explaining my reasons for doing something. After discussing two reasons I say, "There is a third reason that you haven't even considered".
    On the other hand, if it's established that there is a series of reasons, I can say, "The third reason why I did it is...".
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    If not 100%, then 99%.:).

    He tried a third time and succeeded. We learn only now that there was a third time.
    The third time he tried, he succeeded. Here we say "the third time" because it is defined by the relative clause "(that) he tried".

    I'm explaining my reasons for doing something. After discussing two reasons I say, "There is a third reason that you haven't even considered".
    On the other hand, if it's established that there is a series of reasons, I can say, "The third reason why I did it is...".
    Regarding a relative clause affecting the outcome of "the third time he tried...", I have a question:
    In your example, "There is a third reason that you haven't even considered", the relative clause "that you haven't even considered" is used along with "a third reason." And I personally have witnessed quite a few examples of this kind of combination of a noun phrase with an indefinite article modified by a relative clause. So I doubt that "that he tried" was the reason for having "the third time" in your second example sentence. What do you think?
     

    TommyGun

    Senior Member
    Hi all, this is a most interesting thread!
    The third time he tried, he succeeded. Here we say "the third time" because it is defined by the relative clause "(that) he tried".
    But we can say "Another time he tried, he succeeded".
    Then, why can't we substitute the word "another" with "a third time"?
     
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