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  1. #1
    njanja is offline Junior Member
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    Default articles instead of possessives

    When can articles be used instead of possessives?

    Can we say 'I opened the drawer (instead of 'my drawer')' , 'She gave them the purse' (instead of 'her purse')... ?

  2. #2
    mykwyner is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: articles instead of possessives

    Yes, you can use the article when it is clear from the context which drawer or purse or whatever noun you are referring to.

    I opened the drawer and there was a snake in it. The reader would wonder which drawer was being opened. I would use my drawer here for clarity.

    I went into my kitchen, opened the drawer, and there was a snake in it. Now that the identity of the drawer is known, the article alone is sufficient.

  3. #3
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    Talking Re: articles instead of possessives

    Hi,
    There's more to it. I haven't read on the subject anywhere but from my experience I'd say the following:
    1. Possessive pronouns are used with parts of the body; clothes and other things that naturally belong to the person in question.
    I opened my eyes.
    Take off your dress. You may leave your hat on.
    She was fumbling in her bag.

    Let's take another example.
    They sold their house.
    Implies they sold the house they lived in.
    They sold the house.
    This can be ambiguous.
    a) the house they lived in
    b) some definite house which either belonged to them or not.
    2. In some special cases NOT pronouns but the definite article is used with body parts.
    Bob was wounded in the chest.
    She took the child by the hand.

    Off hand, I can't remember more,sorry. I hope some more learned visitors will contribute, too.
    Regards.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: articles instead of possessives

    Quote Originally Posted by Humble View Post
    2. In some special cases NOT pronouns but the definite article is used with body parts.
    Bob was wounded in the chest.
    She took the child by the hand.
    Well, you would hardly expect Bob to be wounded in somebody else's chest; neither could the woman in the second sentence take a child by any hand other than the child's hand.

    In these cases, the identity of the body part is clear because it is simply not possible for anyone else to own the body parts mentioned. Compare that to:

    He cleaned the teeth.

    Well, that could be his teeth. But he could be a dentist, cleaning somebody else's teeth. Or -- and this would be the most likely option -- he is an archaeologist who had just dug up some fossil teeth, and he cleaned the mud off them.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: articles instead of possessives

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    Well, you would hardly expect Bob to be wounded in somebody else's chest; neither could the woman in the second sentence take a child by any hand other than the child's hand.
    In these cases, the identity of the body part is clear because it is simply not possible for anyone else to own the body parts mentioned. Compare that to:
    He cleaned the teeth.
    Well, that could be his teeth. But he could be a dentist, cleaning somebody else's teeth. Or -- and this would be the most likely option -- he is an archaeologist who had just dug up some fossil teeth, and he cleaned the mud off them.
    Sorry, Rewboss, I don't find much logic in your comment. According to it, if the identity is clear, we use the.
    I woke up and opened my eyes.
    I went to the bathroom and cleaned my teeth.
    She shook her head sadly.
    The identity is clear, isn't it? Why not the then? The context makes clear the identity, nevertheless there's a certain pattern for using either a pronoun or the article. I am sure grammarians have studied that. I wish I could read it somewhere.
    Regards

  6. #6
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    Default Re: articles instead of possessives

    You could imagine the following situations -- although they are very unlikely, they are certainly possible:

    I woke up and opened Pete's eyes. (Poor Pete...)
    I went to the bathroom and cleaned my dog's teeth. (Hope you don't share the same toothbrush!)
    She shook her teddy-bear's head sadly.

    But these situations are possibly only in the most surreal of imaginations (perhaps the Goon Show, a radio comedy show of the 1940s and 50s):

    He was shot in Helen's leg.
    She was injured in Tom's head.

  7. #7
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    Talking Re: articles instead of possessives

    Hi Rewboss,
    Well, looks like a horror movie. But a wider context would leave no stiff corpses or teddy-bears around, would it? And it would make your point invalid.
    Could you give a comprehensive wording to your idea? As if it were a rule: when body parts are modified by articles and not pronouns. Id appreciate that greatly. On the other hand, we must be reinventing the bicycle. I wish I could find it somewhere.
    Regards

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