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Articles:

the:

1. used when the speakers know what is being talked about (specific)

2. used in the second mention.

a/an:

1. used in the first mention when we the the speaker or the listener does not know exactly what is being referred to (not specific)

Based on these rules, here is a question taken from Focus on Grammar Interactionse Access:

how can you explain the use of AN in number 5:

a. I usually stay at 1 _ hotel when I go to Rome. I always go to 2 ___ same hotel. It's not 3 ___ expensive hotel, but it's clean. I know 4 ___ owner. He is 5 __ nice man.

Based on the rules, blank 5 talks about the owner which has already been mentioned. Thus, we should use ____?
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Magic79Thanks for your replies.

I know the rules and I know the answers. But how can you explain the use of (an) when all the grammar rules indicate the use of (the).

What is worse is that this question was written in a grammar book after explaining the rules to find out that item 5 is not in accordance with the taught rules!!!

No, you just misunderstood the rules.

The last sentence, just like sentence #3 is an example of the use of 'a/an' in classifying expressions (as opposed to identifying expressions).

The owner of the hotel is already identified with the pronoun 'he' and the predicate is there to describe the man in more detail.

In fact, when you say he's a nice man the intended meaning is similar to saying he's nice.

But you can say

Oh, he's the nice man you were telling me about.

The reason for using 'the' before nice man here is to identify the (nice) person (you were telling me about) rather than saying that he's nice. (identifying vs classifying)

Comments  
He is a nice man.

Or we'd continue to say "the/that nice man, is the owner of a/the hotel".
[depending on the context]
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Magic,

I sometime wonder about the effectiveness of these English excercises for the exact reason which is manifested here in your question. The language and explanation were written with the intent to help the leaners understand. Somewhere along the line, the meaning gets lost in in the delivery of the text, or in the interpretation.
Magic79Articles:

the:

1. used when the speakers know what is being talked about (specific)

2. used in the second mention.

a/an:

1. used in the first mention when we the the speaker or the listener does not know exactly what is being referred to (not specific)

It is my opinion that the rules described above are confusing at best. The author meant to write a short story to demonstrate the use of finite and non-finite articles. Explanations like "first mention" and "second mention" seemed to offer a somewhat reasonable rule and sounded feasible, Hovever, I can't help but to question the effectiveness. I've completed the excercise to demonstrate the point. As you can see, #5's answer can not be "an".

a. I usually stay at 1 _a_ hotel when I go to Rome. I always go to 2 _the__ same hotel. It's not 3 _an__ expensive hotel, but it's clean. I know 4 _the__ owner. He is 5 _a_ nice man.
Thanks for your replies.

I know the rules and I know the answers. But how can you explain the use of (an) when all the grammar rules indicate the use of (the).

What is worse is that this question was written in a grammar book after explaining the rules to find out that item 5 is not in accordance with the taught rules!!!
 Ivanhr's reply was promoted to an answer.
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Magic,

I would like to share this with you. This is how I feel about learnig the article usage. First and foremost, entrust your ears and eyes to the mainstream media that you have confidence in. By that, I mean CNBC, The History Channel, and not the kind that show a lot of skins and drinking booze. Emotion: wink Soon you will develop a sense as to when and where to use correct article. That's 50% of the battle.

The other 50% is on the grammatical side.

The - can be something specific (most of the time), or implied. Take this for exampe: I love the movie. When someone said this, it's presumed that there was a conversation involving a specific movie.

So this is a specific case. On the other hand, if I say "I may go to a movie tonight ", I have no specific movie in mind.

Back to the grammatical aspect of the "question" in discussion, would you agree with this logical explanation?

I know the owner - The owner of the hotel where you stayed. A specific case

He is a nice man - A man with nice characters in general, none specific.

Don't buy at the store on Jackson and 4th, the prices are very expensive.

I would a differnt store. - any store.

Here comes the kicker!

If I say "I need to stop by the bank before going home". This can mean a specific bank, or any branch of the same bank I do business with.

I need to take a couple hours off to go to the dentist. - Even though I am not going to the same dentist I had been with for years as I have just switched to a new one close by my office. So in this context, "the" is used in a general statement. This is the kind of usage and instinct we can only learn to develop by our senses. I don't know if this helps you further.