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  1. #1
    Mary Bright is offline Junior Member
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    Cool Reflecting on 'The'

    I know that one of the rules of using the definite article is when we've got a limiting of-phrase; e.x.: the leg of a table But does that rule always work?

    Trying to stick to another general rule of using 'the': 'Use it when both you and your listener know what you are talking about', I'm, however, asking myself all the time: And what if I know the subject, and my listener doesn't -- What's then?

    Also, I was taught at the university that we use 'a' when describing something or someone; e.x. a blue-blue sky, a strong wind. (Without these adjectives I would have to use 'the').
    So, I'm puzzled with that thing too, cuz' sometimes, even if the name has a descriptive attribute, what is used is 'the'. Could you explain to me what peculiaritites in this case are?

    This is really one of the most difficult points of English grammar, I believe. Native English speakers, besides their knowledge of articles from school, have a great advantage of using them by intuition. But it'd be interesting to know: What problems do you face when using articles?

  2. #2
    freezeframe is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Reflecting on 'The'

    Quote Originally Posted by Mary Bright View Post
    This is really one of the most difficult points of English grammar, I believe. Native English speakers, besides their knowledge of articles from school, have a great advantage of using them by intuition. But it'd be interesting to know: What problems do you face when using articles?
    Native speakers don't learn articles in school. They have no problems with them at all. If there's disagreement, it's not because one option is incorrect, it's because the meaning changes depending on the article used. I only learned articles by complete immersion and I never think about article rules when speaking. Articles are very frustrating to my Russian friends because knowing a rule and actually using the correct article in conversation are two different things.

    to be continued...

  3. #3
    Mary Bright is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Reflecting on 'The'

    Quote Originally Posted by freezeframe View Post
    Native speakers don't learn articles in school. They have no problems with them at all
    That is a nice reason to dream

    Articles are very frustrating to my Russian friends because knowing a rule and actually using the correct article in conversation are two different things
    Perfectly true considering that we don't have such a terrifying thing as articles in Russian, as well as the Perfect form of the verb, though.

  4. #4
    freezeframe is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Reflecting on 'The'

    Quote Originally Posted by Mary Bright View Post
    I know that one of the rules of using the definite article is when we've got a limiting of-phrase; e.x.: the leg of a table But does that rule always work?

    I've never heard of this rule. Maybe someone who has can comment.
    But it seems unnecessarily rigid as I can think of examples where you don't use the definite article there.


    Trying to stick to another general rule of using 'the': 'Use it when both you and your listener know what you are talking about', I'm, however, asking myself all the time: And what if I know the subject, and my listener doesn't -- What's then?

    You can't read someone's mind, obviously. Your interlocutor would know from previous context/previous conversations or it's something that is common knowledge or you're speaking about something that happened in the past that s/he knows about. There is no hard and fast rule here. It's context and situation dependent.

    Also, I was taught at the university that we use 'a' when describing something or someone; e.x. a blue-blue sky, a strong wind. (Without these adjectives I would have to use 'the').
    So, I'm puzzled with that thing too, cuz' sometimes, even if the name has a descriptive attribute, what is used is 'the'. Could you explain to me what peculiaritites in this case are?

    Again, I have never heard such a rule and it seems strange to me or at least it needs to be qualified. The choice of the article depends on the definiteness of the noun (specific and identifiable).

    The sky needs the because there's only one sky.

    When you qualify it, you are speaking of a particular type of sky (cloudy, blue, smoggy, etc), so you would add an article depending on the definiteness in your context. Now it's not referring to a unique object but to a type.

    Wind, however, is not a unique object....

    I'm not as helpful as you imagined. I just give my tutees a little flow chart on article usage and then we practice. Them memorizing specific rules doesn't do a thing until they wrap their head around the concept of definiteness. Or maybe I'm just a terrible teacher.

  5. #5
    Mary Bright is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Reflecting on 'The'

    The choice of the article depends on the definiteness of the noun (specific and identifiable)
    Then everything depends on what you're thinking of as in/definite, and the perception of articles turns out to be subjective. If it is so, my both sentences below must be correct:

    1) On the right is the modern shop Green Flower.

    2) On the right is a modern shop Green Flower.

    In the first case I'm using 'the' to define the shop I'm talking about.
    In the second, I'm stressing its quality of being modern.

    Though I feel the second sentence as the wrong one. The rule of describing things with 'a' comes from my university years, when reading various rules of non-native grammarians, and it's just stuck to my mind. Maybe, that was the way they tried to explain the rule.


    Them memorizing specific rules doesn't do a thing until they wrap their head around the concept of definiteness.
    I agree. Unluckily, the understanding of it came to me only after lots of attempts to learn all the rules about articles, and yet I failed. It makes no sense really. The only right thing to do is to understand the concept of definiteness, as you said. Unfortunately, it's not as easy. I'd rather say, pretty hard

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    freezeframe is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Reflecting on 'The'

    Quote Originally Posted by Mary Bright View Post
    Then everything depends on what you're thinking of as in/definite, and the perception of articles turns out to be subjective. If it is so, my both sentences below must be correct:

    1) On the right is the modern shop Green Flower.

    2) On the right is a modern shop Green Flower.

    In the first case I'm using 'the' to define the shop I'm talking about.
    In the second, I'm stressing its quality of being modern.

    Though I feel the second sentence as the wrong one. The rule of describing things with 'a' comes from my university years, when reading various rules of non-native grammarians, and it's just stuck to my mind. Maybe, that was the way they tried to explain the rule.
    Yes, they're both correct, just like you explained. In the 2nd you're pointing out that it's a modern type of shop. In the first you're pointing out a specific shop; the fact that it's modern is just extra information.

  7. #7
    freezeframe is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Reflecting on 'The'

    Quote Originally Posted by Mary Bright View Post
    I agree. Unluckily, the understanding of it came to me only after lots of attempts to learn all the rules about articles, and yet I failed. It makes no sense really. The only right thing to do is to understand the concept of definiteness, as you said. Unfortunately, it's not as easy. I'd rather say, pretty hard
    It is difficult. But once I managed to "get it", it seemed strange to me that I didn't understand it before. It's so... obvious!

    But you should comfort yourself in the knowledge that learning Russian is much more difficult for English speakers than just understanding articles.

  8. #8
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: Reflecting on 'The'

    Quote Originally Posted by freezeframe View Post
    They have no problems with them at all.
    After spending some time on these forums, I disagree. Native speakers seem to have some problems with articles.

  9. #9
    freezeframe is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Reflecting on 'The'

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    After spending some time on these forums, I disagree. Native speakers seem to have some problems with articles.
    The only problem can be in interpreting which meaning is meant as the choice of the article (or zero article) changes the meaning of the sentence/phrase. But native speakers don't make mistakes in using articles.

  10. #10
    milan2003_07's Avatar
    milan2003_07 is offline Member
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    Default Re: Reflecting on 'The'

    Articles are very difficult indeed. You usually learn them when just starting studying the language and at first everything seems very simple, very obvious. Nonetheless the more you practice English, the more you realize that articles are far more difficult than they can seem at first sight. I myself have many times come across the situation when you need to choose between "a" and "the". I can't give many general recommendations because some have already been posted here, but I know that there are some common truths when you use only "the". For example we usually say "the" before "sky", "earth", "atmosphere", and other nouns that exist only in single numbers.

    When you're speaking about something that both of you are aware of you still say "a" when mentioning something for the first time. For example: "When I entered that room I saw a table". Here you are both like to know which table is being discussed, but since you've mentioned it for the first time in your conversation, you've used "a". However when you're talking about something specific or add extra details that allow one to understand which particular thing is being described, you use "the". For example: "The table in our old house was in very poor condition and we had to throw it away". Here it's meaningless and wrong to use "a" because using "a" would mean you are speaking about an arbitrary table, but from the context it's clear that there was the only table in their old house and all the people discussing that people know about that.

    I suppose the only way of mastering the usage of articles is communication with natives and watching movies in English. Eventually you will understand how to use them correctly. You will develop your intuition.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mary Bright View Post
    I know that one of the rules of using the definite article is when we've got a limiting of-phrase; e.x.: the leg of a table But does that rule always work?

    Trying to stick to another general rule of using 'the': 'Use it when both you and your listener know what you are talking about', I'm, however, asking myself all the time: And what if I know the subject, and my listener doesn't -- What's then?

    Also, I was taught at the university that we use 'a' when describing something or someone; e.x. a blue-blue sky, a strong wind. (Without these adjectives I would have to use 'the').
    So, I'm puzzled with that thing too, cuz' sometimes, even if the name has a descriptive attribute, what is used is 'the'. Could you explain to me what peculiaritites in this case are?

    This is really one of the most difficult points of English grammar, I believe. Native English speakers, besides their knowledge of articles from school, have a great advantage of using them by intuition. But it'd be interesting to know: What problems do you face when using articles?

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