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  1. #1
    Anonymous Guest

    Default Why use "the" before "wrong number"?

    Hello.

    I'm a Japanese learning English and have a question for which I have been wishing to find explanation but unable to for quite some time.

    My question is: I do not understand why you use "the" in the expression "You dialed the wrong number" and other similar expressions involving the word "wrong."
    I understand I have to say "You dialed the correct number" since there is only one correct number.
    But as for the "wrong number," it seems logical to me to say "You dialed a wrong number," because it is out of many possible wrong numbers that you dialed the very wrong number you dialed.
    To say "the wrong number" gives me the impression as if there was only one possible wrong number you could dial.
    Do you understand what I am saying?
    If you do, could you explain the meaning of the "the" in "You dialed the wrong number"?

    Thank you in advance.

  2. #2
    MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use "the" before "wrong number"?

    Quote Originally Posted by naoki
    Hello.

    I'm a Japanese learning English and have a question for which I have been wishing to find explanation but unable to for quite some time.

    My question is: I do not understand why you use "the" in the expression "You dialed the wrong number" and other similar expressions involving the word "wrong."
    I understand I have to say "You dialed the correct number" since there is only one correct number.
    But as for the "wrong number," it seems logical to me to say "You dialed a wrong number," because it is out of many possible wrong numbers that you dialed the very wrong number you dialed.
    To say "the wrong number" gives me the impression as if there was only one possible wrong number you could dial.
    Do you understand what I am saying?
    If you do, could you explain the meaning of the "the" in "You dialed the wrong number"?

    Thank you in advance.
    That's a good question. One could surely use "a" there. Once one has a dialed a number, it is a specific number, even though there are many other possible wrong numbers. If one views it as one of many, one would use "a". If one views it as a specific number that turned out to be wrong, one would use "the".

  3. #3
    oichi Guest

    Default Re: Why use "the" before "wrong number"?

    Thanks Mike.

    (I registered myself to this site and changed my user name from naoki to oichi.)

    I'm glad that I finally got an explanation for my long-standing question.
    So that's the meaning of the "the" when you say "You dialed the wrong number."
    I see.
    But it still feels a little bit weird to me.
    For example, when you see someone on the street, can you say "You have the nice haircut" because it is a specific haircut that turned out to be nice?
    Or do you have to say "You have a nice haircut" in this case?
    If you can only say the latter, what is the difference between this and "You have the wrong number"?
    There probably is a difference here that affects the use of an article (a/the) but I don't know what that exactly is.
    And if you could explain this difference for me, I would probably get a clearer understanding of "the" in "the wrong [something]."

  4. #4
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    'You have a nice haircut' sounds better, because there are many nice many ways to cut hair.

  5. #5
    oichi Guest

    Default Re: Why use "the" before "wrong number"?

    Quote Originally Posted by tdol
    'You have a nice haircut' sounds better, because there are many nice many ways to cut hair.
    Thanks tdol for your comment. :)

    But as I pointed out in my original question, the very reason I am having this question is that there are many wrong numbers you can dial too.
    If you are talking about one specific instance among many other possibilities in both cases, why do you usually use "a" in "a nice haircut" and "the" in "the wrong number"?
    I feel there might be a logical difference between the two situations that results in the two different choices of the article (a/the) but I don't know what that is.
    Or is it just a grammatical quirk that has resulted in the regular use of "the" in "the wrong something," making it an idiomatic expression?

    Is my question making sense to you? :?

  6. #6
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    It's the wrong number because it is mine and I am only interested in that one number. You could call ten thousand wrong numbers and I wouldn't care or know, but if you disturb me, then it matters. ;-0

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Why use "the" before "wrong number"?

    Quote Originally Posted by oichi
    Thanks Mike.

    (I registered myself to this site and changed my user name from naoki to oichi.)

    I'm glad that I finally got an explanation for my long-standing question.
    So that's the meaning of the "the" when you say "You dialed the wrong number."
    I see.
    But it still feels a little bit weird to me.
    For example, when you see someone on the street, can you say "You have the nice haircut" because it is a specific haircut that turned out to be nice?
    Or do you have to say "You have a nice haircut" in this case?
    If you can only say the latter, what is the difference between this and "You have the wrong number"?
    There probably is a difference here that affects the use of an article (a/the) but I don't know what that exactly is.
    And if you could explain this difference for me, I would probably get a clearer understanding of "the" in "the wrong [something]."
    IMO, one says "a nice haircut" because it is not the only nice haircut, not because there are other ways to cut one's hair. If one felt that you had a one-of-a-kind nice haircut, one could say you have the nicest haircut. In that case "a" wouldn't work.

    Article selection and use is one of the most difficult areas of English to master. Much of it follows rules and makes sense. Some of it is idiomatic and must just be learned.

  8. #8
    oichi Guest

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    Quote Originally Posted by tdol
    It's the wrong number because it is mine and I am only interested in that one number. You could call ten thousand wrong numbers and I wouldn't care or know, but if you disturb me, then it matters. ;-0
    Thanks again tdol.

    What you are saying sounds interesting and seems to have shed some light on this question for me.
    But it still doesn't completely dispel the uncertainty I am feeling about this.
    You know there are sometimes things that everybody else seems to see no problems with but only you seem to feel a persistent dissatisfaction with?
    Like you cannot grasp the feeling everybody else is feeling?
    This question may be something like that for me.
    So if you could bear with my questioning a bit more and help clarify this for me so I can also grasp the "right feeling," I would be very happy. :)

    OK, this number is mine and I am interested in only this one number.
    But doesn't the caller on the other side also say "Oh, I seem to have dialed the wrong number"?
    If he does, why does HE say so, considering it is not HIS number and there are so many other wrong numbers he can dial?
    Likewise, it seems to me that you can look at "a nice haircut" from the other side.
    I mean, for the person who had a nice haircut, that haircut is his and he is only interested in that haircut.
    But he says "I had A nice haircut."

    Please consider this situation.
    A teacher asks students to buy a specific textbook and bring it to the next class.
    In the next class, one student brings a book which is not the one the teacher intended.
    Here, does the teacher say "you got THE wrong book" or "you got A wrong book"?
    Unlike "You dialed the wrong number," that wrong book is not the teacher's.

    How about a situation like this?
    Two men are looking for a specific woman they know in the street.
    One man says "Isn't that her?" pointing at a woman walking in front of them.
    The other man understands that it is not her.
    Here, does the other man say "That's the wrong person" or "That's a wrong person"?

    Do you use "THE wrong..." in the above two situations too?
    If so, I just came up with my own hypothesis about this "the."
    Could you assess how plausible this explanations is?
    My hypothesis is that it has to do with the word "wrong."
    That is, "the wrong book" is more specifically limited than "a nice haircut."
    Unlike nice or not nice haircuts, there is only one correct book.
    This fact makes any books other than one correct book the wrong books.
    So while there are many possible wrong books you can bring to the class, any one of them is specifically the wrong book.
    On the other hand, neither nice nor not nice haircuts are specifically limited.
    What do you think of this explanation?

    Thank you for reading my long post.
    I know what I'm saying sounds confusing because I am a little confused too.

  9. #9
    oichi Guest

    Default Re: Why use "the" before "wrong number"?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeNewYork
    Article selection and use is one of the most difficult areas of English to master. Much of it follows rules and makes sense. Some of it is idiomatic and must just be learned.
    Yes, I feel that the use (and non-use) of the article is THE most difficult aspect of English grammar for me.
    It's partly because my native language Japanese doesn't have the grammatical element of the article.
    But I think that even when two languages use the article, their ways of using it is often different, because the cognitive rationale behind its use is specific to the languages and you often have to learn each specific cases of the article use.

  10. #10
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    It is a very difficult area for Japanese learners- I know this well as I have a Japanese partner. In the example of 'the wrong book', we use the definite article because we are only interested in the one book you brought in contrast to the one you didn't; we aren't interested in the thousands of other wrong books you could have brought. So, yes, Oichi, I do agree with your analysis.

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