Should We Say 'A Tiger', 'The Tiger', or 'Tigers'? | Mastering Grammar

(Last Updated: 24 March 2024)

Source: TOPick

Part 1

A Tiger, the Tiger, or Tigers: Which One Is Correct?

When using the word tiger in a sentence, we should either precede it with a determiner (e.g. athethat, and their) or make it plural (tigers) because it is a countable noun. Which option you choose depends on the context:

✅ We saw a tiger at the zoo.
❌ We saw tiger at the zoo.

✅ Chris was born in the Year of the Tiger.
❌ Chris was born in the Year of Tiger.

✅ I like tigers.
❌ I like tiger.

A Tiger

Use a tiger if you are describing a non-specific tiger, or one that is mentioned for the first time:

✅ If you see a tiger in the wild, the first thing to do is to keep calm. (any tiger, not a specific one)

✅ Do you know what I saw yesterday? A tiger! (a tiger being mentioned for the first time)

The Tiger

Use the tiger if you are referring to a specific tiger that is known to you and your listener/reader, or if you are talking about tigers as a species:

✅ The tiger we saw yesterday was huge! (a specific tiger)

✅ The tiger is a fearsome yet majestic animal. (all tigers collectively as a species)


Use tigers if you are talking about tigers in general:

✅ Tigers are smaller than elephants.

✅ I'm scared of tigers.

The same principle applies to other animals, such as monkeys, pandas, and eagles.

1. If you are speaking to native English speakers who are unfamiliar with Chinese culture, they may not know exactly what you are talking about.
2. The definite article the is required here.
3. A direct translation into English can sound a little strange. The indefinite article a would be required here though.
(Source: TOPick)

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Also by Spencer Lam

Part 2: 'Relax' or 'Relax Oneself'? 
Part 3: 'Exchange Program' or 'Exchanging Program'?
Part 4: 'Yours sincerely' or 'Yours faithfully'?
Part 5: Should We Say 'Take Bus', 'Take the Bus', or 'Take a Bus'?
Part 6: 'I Afraid' or 'I Am Afraid'?
Part 7: 'Date Someone' or 'Date with Someone'?
Part 8: A Missing Relative Pronoun
Part 9: Are 'Basketball', 'Football', and 'Badminton' Countable or Uncountable?
Part 10: 'Every Time' or 'Every Time When'?
Part 11: Should 'Mum' Be Capitalised? (Read this blog post for a more in-depth discussion of the topic.)
Part 12: 'Grammar' or 'Grammer'?

Examples from the Media

Days after quietly ringing in the Chinese New Year, Beijing is celebrating the Year of the Tiger on the Olympic stage. The tiger—a symbol of strength and good luck in Chinese folklore—was featured during Friday's Winter Olympic opening ceremony. —Toronto Star (2022)

A tiger at a wildlife park tore through the door of an enclosure and pounced on a keeper, a zoo visitor has told an inquest. Gareth Bell had been visiting South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, in May last year when he saw the tiger attack Sarah McClay in the keepers' corridor. —The Independent (2014)

And in some places in the United States, owning an exotic pet such as a tiger isn't regulated at all. —CNN (2020)

Tigers are classified as an endangered species and in the wild, they normally roam freely across large areas of territory. South China Morning Post (2022)

Other Real-World Examples of Misuse

The definite article the is required as it is a specific monkey. You could also say that the monkey is climbing up the tall tree if you want to point out that it is in the process of climbing.
(Source: 英文文法精讀與練習)

An eagle can be used to talk about a generic eagle, representative of the entire species.
(Source: 英文文法精讀與練習)

In this sentence, the panda refers to pandas as a species.
(Source: 香港中學文憑試 : 英文星級句子全攻略)

1. The present simple tense steals is not suitable because the act of the robber stealing Flora's bag has already occurred. If we assume that Flora is running after the robber, that means the theft took place just minutes or seconds ago. This justifies the use of the present perfect tense. In British English, one of the functions of the present perfect tense, as in has stolen, is to talk about very recent past events.
2. The sentence My favourite animal is panda is not grammatically correct because panda is a countable noun. Countable nouns generally require an article (a, an, the) or other determiner (my, your, this, that, etc.) when they are singular. If you are speaking about pandas in general, you should say My favourite animal is the panda. Here the panda refers to pandas as a species. If you prefer a slightly less formal option, you could say Pandas are my favourite animals. If you are referring to a specific panda that you know or see regularly, then say My favourite animal is a panda.
(Source: Brighter General English Book 5 General Practice)

1. The sentence is grammatically incorrect because it lacks a determiner like athe, or that before the noun snake. Since a non-specific snake is being referred to, the indefinite article a would be the most suitable choice.
2. The noun bite is countable, so it should either be preceded by the indefinite article a or be made plural. Both a snake bite and snake bites can be used to express the concept of snake bites in general. 
(Source: English Examiner for Junior Forms, Book 2A)
(Also by the Same Author: 1/2/3/4/5)

1. The plural form should be used because the sentence is referring to trees in general, not a specific tree.
2. The original sentence was grammatically incorrect because do and don't were both used in the same clause. The correct structures for forming questions are Why do small creatures not even know and Why don't small creatures even know.
3. The plural form should be used to refer to sloths in general.
(Source: Ying Wa Primary School)
(Also by the Same School: 1/2/3)

The plural form whales should be used to refer to whales in general.
(Source: Diocesan Girls' Junior School)
(Also by the Same School: 1/2/3)

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