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General Writing and Grammar Help/Make a difference - make the difference

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Question
Dear Ted:

Do you say, "to make A difference" or "to make THE difference"?

If both are possible, do they mean the same thing?

If not, when should I use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

Answer
Dear Paolo:

Do you say, "to make A difference" or "to make THE difference"?

If both are possible, do they mean the same thing?

If not, when should I use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

*** I get this question quite often.  There IS a slight difference between the two.

A difference -- general phrase.

EXAMPLES:

If you want to make a difference in how the group operates, you should attend the weekly meetings.

He made a difference in his grades by studying more often.

THE difference -- specific phrase.

The difference between the two factions is difficult to understand.

Although many people contributed to the fund, John made the difference by donating a million dollars.

What is A difference between X and Y?  [There may be several differences, but you are asked to name just one.]

What is THE difference between X and Y?  [There is just one specific difference.]

Ted

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Ted Nesbitt

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I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

Education/Credentials
B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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