the/a third time I have started this letter

VicNicSor

Banned
Russian
make
constitute; amount to:
This makes the third time I have started this letter and always something comes up to interfere with its writing.
Oxforddictionaries

As I see, the speaker is saying about one more time, another time. Why isn't s/he using "a" instead of "the"?
Thank you.
 
  • kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    This is a specific time. Similarly you would say "The first time I saw Paris..." Or "I liked the house at first, but the second time I went there, I realized it had problems."
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I suppose the logic behind "the third time" is that the third time is a singular event. That speaker will never try to write that letter another third time. Instead, if another attempt is necessary, it will be the fourth time.

    Cross-posted with kalamazoo.
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    A question...
    The first three examples from dictionaries I've just come across under "a third time".
    Could you tell me what is the difference between them and the original sentence?
    When I saw him a third time, I realized it was more than just coincidence.
    Ali squared up to Frazier for a third time the following year.
    triple jump -- a sport in which you first jump forwards on one leg, jump again on the other leg, and jump a third time using both legs
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    As a native speaker, I have no idea what the rules are. But to me in the examples in #4, "a third time" is just about the same as "again." It's not particularly specific. In fact in all those sentences, you could use 'again' in place of 'a third time.' They seem like some kind of adverbial phrase. And in all those sentences, you could use either "a" or "the" third time with no difference in meaning. But if you change them so that the "time" is more like a noun, then you would probably use "the." For instance "The third time that Ali and Frazier squared off was in the following year" or "The first time you jump is on one leg, the second time is on the other and the third time is using both legs."
     

    srk

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I suppose these sentences with "a" don't want to distinguish the particular time talked about except to call attention its position in a sequence.

    I had seen him twice. When I saw him a third time, I realized .... (It wasn't anything special about that particular time that caused him to have a realization. Third is just where it occurred in the sequence of meetings.)

    Ali and Frazier had met twice. Ali squared up to Frazier a third time .... (The next sentence might call it "the third time", but at this point in the narrative all that counts is that it's number three.)

    I don't think you could write This was a third time I saw him. Once you say "this" it has to be "the".

    It's a hard question for me to answer, Vik, but that's how it feels to me just now.

    Cross-posted with kalamazoo
     
    Last edited:

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    make
    constitute; amount to:
    This makes the third time I have started this letter and always something comes up to interfere with its writing.
    There seems little doubt that the speaker is annoyed. In English, the is also used for emphasis. (i) It is easier to emphasis the than a. (ii) Emphasising a, creates another, different nuance.

    To emphasise the example in the the manner and use a you would really have to add an expletive/emphatic: "This makes a bloody third time I have started this letter..." and put the emphasis on bloody.
     
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