# Thread: Why use "the" before "wrong number"?

1. oichi Guest
Konnichiwa, Casiopea. :D

Originally Posted by Casiopea
Another way of saying "The number you (have) dialed is wrong" is "You have dailed the wrong number".

"The number" refers to a specific number, as tdol said, the number you are calling. There is only one number registered with the location you are calling and that number is different (i.e. chigau) from the one you want to call.

the number is wrong ~ the wrong number
I see.
But isn't this also true?: "The haircut you have is nice" is "You have a nice haircut."
On the other hand, your point about "only one number registered with the location" seems to make sense.

Originally Posted by Casiopea
Another example
Sam: Please lend me a pencil.
Max: What kind of pencil? I have several kinds.
Sam: A nice one. (Meaning, any one pencil in your case)

or

Sam: (pointing) The nice one there. (pointing = specific)

or

Sam: The green one. ('green' = specific)
I see.
But isn't this also true?: (pointing) You have a nice haircut. (pointing = specific)

Originally Posted by Casiopea
Teacher: Did you bring your workbooks?
Student: Yes. Here it is.
Teacher: That's the wrong workbook.

the workbook (I asked you to buy) is wrong ~ the wrong workbook.

Again, isn't this also true?: the haircut (you have) is nice" ~ a nice haircut.

BUT!
I might have found a great clue here.
You says what modifies "workbook" here is "I asked you to buy," not "(the workbook) you bought."
It seems to me that, like my "hypothesis," you are indicating that what is making "the wrong workbook" so specific to require the definite article is "the workbook I asked you to buy," i.e. "the right book."
In other words, the book you bought is wrong as the book I asked you to buy.
That is, you bought a workbook which belongs to the wrong category specified by the right workbook I asked you to buy.

So "the" of "the wrong workbook" means not "the specific workbook," but "a workbook that belongs to the category specified by the right workbook."
Am I off the mark?

Originally Posted by Casiopea
Pat: There's Miki!
Sam: No. That's not her.
Pat: Yes, it is!
Sam: That's the wrong person.

the person (we are looking for) is wrong ~ the wrong person

"we are looking for" makes "person" specific, and so "The" is added.
In your last line here, are you saying that what makes "the wrong person" so specific as to require the definite article is the fact that we are looking for a specific person?
If so, that is exactly what I tried to say about the "workbook" example above.

Am I imagining up a wrong, unnecessarily complicated theory?
Oh, should I say THE WRONG, unnecessarily complicated theory? :o

2. oichi Guest
Konnichiwa, Casiopea. :D

Originally Posted by Casiopea
Another way of saying "The number you (have) dialed is wrong" is "You have dailed the wrong number".

"The number" refers to a specific number, as tdol said, the number you are calling. There is only one number registered with the location you are calling and that number is different (i.e. chigau) from the one you want to call.

the number is wrong ~ the wrong number
I see.
But isn't this also true?: "The haircut you have is nice" is "You have a nice haircut."
On the other hand, your point about "only one number registered with the location" seems to make sense.

Originally Posted by Casiopea
Another example
Sam: Please lend me a pencil.
Max: What kind of pencil? I have several kinds.
Sam: A nice one. (Meaning, any one pencil in your case)

or

Sam: (pointing) The nice one there. (pointing = specific)

or

Sam: The green one. ('green' = specific)
I see.
But isn't this also true?: (pointing) You have a nice haircut. (pointing = specific)

Originally Posted by Casiopea
Teacher: Did you bring your workbooks?
Student: Yes. Here it is.
Teacher: That's the wrong workbook.

the workbook (I asked you to buy) is wrong ~ the wrong workbook.

Again, isn't this also true?: the haircut (you have) is nice" ~ a nice haircut.

BUT!
I might have found a great clue here.
You says what modifies "workbook" here is "I asked you to buy," not "(the workbook) you bought."
It seems to me that, like my "hypothesis," you are indicating that what is making "the wrong workbook" so specific to require the definite article is "the workbook I asked you to buy," i.e. "the right book."
In other words, the book you bought is wrong as the book I asked you to buy.
That is, you bought a workbook which belongs to the wrong category specified by the right workbook I asked you to buy.

So "the" of "the wrong workbook" means not "the specific workbook," but "a workbook that belongs to the category specified by the right workbook."
Am I off the mark?

Originally Posted by Casiopea
Pat: There's Miki!
Sam: No. That's not her.
Pat: Yes, it is!
Sam: That's the wrong person.

the person (we are looking for) is wrong ~ the wrong person

"we are looking for" makes "person" specific, and so "The" is added.
In your last line here, are you saying that what makes "the wrong person" so specific as to require the definite article is the fact that we are looking for a specific person?
If so, that is exactly what I tried to say about the "workbook" example above.

Am I imagining up a wrong, unnecessarily complicated theory?
Oh, should I say THE WRONG, unnecessarily complicated theory? :o

3. Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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Posts
40,168
If a hairdresser had a limited number of styles, you could use 'the', otherwise, and more naturally, use 'a', because there is no single perfect haircut.

BTW- if there are two turnings only, then you would say he took the wrong turning.

4. Editor, UsingEnglish.com
Join Date
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Posts
40,168
If a hairdresser had a limited number of styles, you could use 'the', otherwise, and more naturally, use 'a', because there is no single perfect haircut.

BTW- if there are two turnings only, then you would say he took the wrong turning.

5. Editor, UsingEnglish.com
Join Date
Nov 2002
Posts
40,168
I think you are overcomplicating it, but what you are trying to do makes sense, given that you are wrestling with a concept you don't have in your language, and one that is complex.

Do you know how to use a concordancer? Click on the links below to look at some examples:

A wrong:
http://thetis.bl.uk/cgi-bin/saraWeb?qy=a+wrong
The wrong:
http://thetis.bl.uk/cgi-bin/saraWeb?qy=the+wrong

These are real examples of usage. You can use this site for examples of words or phrases.
http://thetis.bl.uk/lookup.html

6. Editor, UsingEnglish.com
Join Date
Nov 2002
Posts
40,168
I think you are overcomplicating it, but what you are trying to do makes sense, given that you are wrestling with a concept you don't have in your language, and one that is complex.

Do you know how to use a concordancer? Click on the links below to look at some examples:

A wrong:
http://thetis.bl.uk/cgi-bin/saraWeb?qy=a+wrong
The wrong:
http://thetis.bl.uk/cgi-bin/saraWeb?qy=the+wrong

These are real examples of usage. You can use this site for examples of words or phrases.
http://thetis.bl.uk/lookup.html

7. oichi Guest
Thanks very much tdol. :D

I will get accustomed to the actual usage of the articles by reading many actual examples.

In the meanwhile, I found a Web page that discusses "specific definite reference" and "specific indefinite reference."
http://www.geocities.com/mdmorrissey/1-2-1.htm

Here the writer says:

In some cases the predilection for the definite article seems governed by the modifier rather than the noun: in the wrong way in (7) but in an improper way.
This comment makes me feel that, while that meaning of "the" in "the wrong..." which you told me about (i.e. WHAT it means) must be true, WHY you use "the" and produce that meaning for "wrong..." is not simply situational but also idiomatic.
I don't know how right I am but that's how my limited understanding of English makes me feel at this point. :wink:

8. Editor, UsingEnglish.com
Join Date
Nov 2002
Posts
40,168
Collocation is a powerful force in English. Interestingly, while 'an improper' sounds right, a person would normally do 'the proper thing'.

9. oichi Guest
Originally Posted by tdol
Interestingly, while 'an improper' sounds right, a person would normally do 'the proper thing'.
Really?
I didn't know that and that's indeed very interesting. :o

1. the right thing / the wrong thing
2. the proper thing / an improper thing

WHY you use "the" for "wrong thing" and "an" for "improper thing" seems very idiomatic, for the cases 1 and 2 don't seem to have any difference in terms of their situational structure.
WHAT they mean is different: "the wrong thing" is a specific thing, and "an improper thing" is one of many things.
And this difference, it seems to me, stems from the idiomatic use of language, not from their situations.
In other words, the linguistic/cognitive convention is making you adopt two different ways of looking at the structurally same situations.
Or do the cases 1 and 2 actually have a situational difference that affects the usage of the articles?

I hope I'm not overcomplicating things again.

10. That's a wonderful explanation. :)

an improper thing (one of many improper things; that is, the specific improper thing is not stated, but left vague.

a wrong number (any wrong number, but the number (you are dialing) is still wrong.

Note, the words you are dailing , even though omitted from the context, still modifies number, making number known (i.e. defined), and hence specific: the number is wrong ~ the number you are calling is wrong. There's nothing idiomatic about that. It has a reason. :D

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