She also looked under the bed - ( a / the ) precaution that

TommyGun

Senior Member
Hello,

I changed a bit an example from my grammar book. (It was "She also took the precaution of looking under the bed").

a)
My aunt lived on the ground floor of an old house on the River Thames. She was very much afraid of burglars and always locked up the house very carefully before she went to bed. She also looked under the bed - a precaution she took to see if a burglar was hiding there.
b)
My aunt lived on the ground floor of an old house on the River Thames. She was very much afraid of burglars and always locked up the house very carefully before she went to bed. She also looked under the bed - the precaution she took to see if a burglar was hiding there.
What version would you choose?
 
  • e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Sentence a) is correct, although it is a long-winded way of saying in case a burglar was hiding there.

    Sentence b) would sound somewhat more natural if you wrote "- the precaution she always took to see if a burglar was hiding there."
     

    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    Hi TommyGun, you can justify either indefinite article ("a precaution") or definite article ("the precaution") here.

    Indefinite article: first mention.
    What's this? It's a tree my father planted 10 years ago. [First mention of any tree.]
    How would you describe her action of looking under the bed? It's a precaution she took to see if a burglar was hiding there. [First mention of any precaution.]

    Definite article: defining the object.
    What's this? It's the tree my father planted 10 years ago. [It distinguishes this tree from other trees, it defines this tree.]
    How would you describe her action of looking under the bed? It's the precaution she took to see if a burglar was hiding there. [Distinguishes this precaution from another precaution she took to avoid getting pregnant. It defines this precaution.]

    Often (but not always) either article is possible, as here.
     
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    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    No, the reader or listener doesn't need to know about the tree. The writer or speaker knows about that tree, and is defining it with a characteristic that makes it different from any other trees in the immediate context.

    If we look at this nursery rhyme - This is the House that Jack Built (source: pitt.edu) - for example, the rhyme introduces a whole series of new characters or items which the reader doesn't know about, and uses the definite article to define the characters even on first mention: the house that Jack built, the malt that lay in the house, the rat that ate the malt, etc.
     
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