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Let me ask a question about the following sentence. Ryan...

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Question by Masa
Submitted on 11/27/2003
Related FAQ: The alt.usage.english FAQ
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Let me ask a question about the following sentence.

Ryan was nearly killed twice in half an hour. He left the taxi a few blocks short of his destination. (p1, Tom Clancy)

Question:  is about the definitive article
of "the taxi".  This sentence is quite the beginning of the whole book, and nothing before this part to describe the taxi which Ryan left.  But it says "the taxi", not a taxi.
Is it possible to say "left a taxi"?
If not, why not?

I appreciate your kindness in advance.

Answer by Ryan
Submitted on 12/7/2003
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Answer by Purp
Submitted on 2/26/2004
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You could certainly use "a taxi" in place of "the taxi." You would lose some of the drama and impact of the statement by doing so (and "Patriot Games" is nothing if not dramatic =).

The phrase "the taxi" is specific. By being specific, the author implies prior action and further, subtly implies that you were present for or familiar with this prior action. The net effect is to immediately, intimately involve you with the character.

Many, and perhaps nearly all, authors of novels play fast and loose with those rules of grammar which are taught in school. In doing so, they adopt an idiom that helps define their genre and their work.


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