English as a Second Language/use of the and a



We use a in these sentences

(1)You should see a doctor, (2)I am a doctor, (3)he is a doctor but in saying 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away'.

Plz explain when to you a and the with doctor.

ANSWER: Dear techno,

'Doctor' is like any other countable noun - the singular form nearly always requires an article. This is usually the indefinite article, unless we are referring to one already mentioned or known.

"I am a doctor"
"Fortunately, there was a doctor on the plane when my mother had a heart attack. The doctor managed to keep her alive until the plane landed."
"The infection is not clearing up. You need to see a doctor."
"I've had this pain for five days now. I need to see a/the doctor"
"You should see a doctor."

Your third sentence is incomplete, and makes no real sense as it stands.

With best wishes,


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: actually I wanted to ask that why we use 'a' with doctor in some cases and in the old saying ''an apple a day keeps the doctor away''.Why the doctor??


We sometimes use 'the' with a singular noun when we wish to talk about one example of a class, or about things in general:

"The cow was first domesticated over ten thousand years ago."
"The teacher should concentrate on the child, not on the examination."
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away."

There are other possibilities:

"Cows were first domesticated over ten thousand years ago."
"Teachers/A teacher should concentrate on children/the child, not on examinations/the examination."

It is grammatically possible to say "An apple a day keeps doctors away", but "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" has become a fixed expression nowadays. We could even say ""An apple a day keeps a doctor away", but we don't.

We often have personal choice in such situations, but not with phrases that have become fixed as sayings or proverbs.

Best wishes,


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Jed Webb


I can assist with questions about English grammar (syntax, morphology, pronunciation and spelling)from learners taking such examinations as TOEFL, IELTS, FCE and CAE and other internationally recognised tests.


I have over forty years of experience in the teaching of modern languages, twenty-four of them in the Teaching of English as a Second Language. I have been an examiner for FCE, BEC and IELTS examinations, and a teacher trainer on courses leading to the Trinity College Certificate in TESOL.

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