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    #1

    generic use of articles

    Hello,

    I have a problem concerning the generic use of articles. In one of the exercises on articles here I found a sentence:

    Do you know how to use ______ computer?

    The correct answer according to the key is "a". My question is whether it'd be possible to use "the" in the generic meaning of "prototype" or "general class".

    I know it is possible to use both types of articles in sentences like:

    The computer/a computer is very useful for research.

    In my opinion the most common way of expressing this would be using plural with zero article:

    Do you know how to use computers?

    But I'm really curious about this problem and I'd like to ask an expert for help. Thank you.

  1. Raymott's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: generic use of articles

    Quote Originally Posted by Margee View Post
    Hello,

    I have a problem concerning the generic use of articles. In one of the exercises on articles here I found a sentence:

    Do you know how to use ______ computer?

    The correct answer according to the key is "a". My question is whether it'd be possible to use "the" in the generic meaning of "prototype" or "general class".

    I know it is possible to use both types of articles in sentences like:

    The computer/a computer is very useful for research.

    In my opinion the most common way of expressing this would be using plural with zero article:

    Do you know how to use computers?

    But I'm really curious about this problem and I'd like to ask an expert for help. Thank you.
    No, the most common way to express this is:
    Do you know how to use a computer?
    Do you know how to drive a car?
    (NOT: "Do you know how to drive the car?" or "Do you know how to drive cars?"
    Do you know how to write an essay?

    If the noun is normally plural, then your method would be right:
    Do you know how to read tea leaves?
    Do you know how to load staples into the machine?
    Do you know how to rank sports teams? (Note that 'sports teams' doesn't have to be plural, but the verb "rank" implies that you have more than one of them).

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    #3

    Re: generic use of articles

    Dear Raymott,

    Thank you very much for your reply. However, I still don't really understand the difference between those two:

    Do you know how to use a computer?
    The computer/a computer is very useful for research.


    The computer - refers to the "invention" of this type; a computer - just any kind of computer. But why is it not possible to say "use the computer" in the same sense?

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    #4

    Re: generic use of articles

    Quote Originally Posted by Margee View Post
    Dear Raymott,

    Thank you very much for your reply. However, I still don't really understand the difference between those two:

    Do you know how to use a computer?
    The computer/a computer is very useful for research.


    The computer - refers to the "invention" of this type; a computer - just any kind of computer. But why is it not possible to say "use the computer" in the same sense?
    Grammatically, either is possible. The use of the definite article, however, is rather formal and tends to be limited to scientific use, e.g.

    The mountain gorilla lives wild in the hills of Rwanda.

    Less formally, one could say simply

    Mountain gorillas live...

  2. Soup's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: generic use of articles

    Quote Originally Posted by Margee View Post
    Hello,

    I have a problem concerning the generic use of articles. In one of the exercises on articles here I found a sentence:

    Do you know how to use ______ computer?

    The correct answer according to the key is "a". My question is whether it'd be possible to use "the" in the generic meaning of "prototype" or "general class".
    Yes! Using the phrase the computer in that context is certainly possible: native speakers use it, even me. It expresses a prototype from which all brands and systems stem.

    The phrase the computer, however, admits ambiguity--it has more than one meaning:


    • Do you know how to use the computer (over there)?
    • Do you know how to use the computer? <prototype>


    Which is why (a), not (b), is the best answer here:


    • Do you know how to use _____ computer?

    (a) a
    (b) the

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    #6

    Re: generic use of articles

    Perfect, thank you all you know, no matter how long I've been studying English, there's always something I'm not able to figure out on my own and many many things I still have to learn...
    After I graduated, one of my teachers told me that learning English is a life-long quest. Now I see that he was right...

  3. Soup's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: generic use of articles

    Quote Originally Posted by Margee View Post
    Perfect, thank you all you know, no matter how long I've been studying English, there's always something I'm not able to figure out on my own and many many things I still have to learn...
    After I graduated, one of my teachers told me that learning English is a life-long quest. Now I see that he was right...
    You're most welcome, Margee. Your teacher is right: acquiring a language is a lifelong quest--no matter the language--because language fluid.

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