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  1. keannu's Avatar
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    #1

    meaning of "the" as unique or specific?

    The meaning of "the" is variable depending on context sometimes as "unique" or sometimes as "specific"..so the below sentence might seem tricky to me.

    "A car hit a tree. The driver got badly hurt"
    Some websites say in this case 'the' means unique driver, other website say this "the" means specific driver. It's kind of tricky because 'unique' can makes sense as it can mean the only driver related to the accident, and also "specific" can also make sense as it's about the specific driver in the accident.

    I don't know if native speakers perceive this as unique or specific.
    Another example could be like this.
    "I went to an ESL academy to learn English, and I met the consulting manager at the reception desk"
    In this case, does "the" in "the consulting manager" mean the only one consulting manger or the specific manager in the institute?

    If there are more than one consulting manger, you can't say "the", I think you should say "a manager", but I seem to have seen lots of cases where native speakers say "the" even for one of the many same titled people.

    When you say "The houses on the hill are all big.", does it mean "the unique houses" or "the specific houses"?

    If all of us are five going to the same school and say "We are the students of ** school", does that mean we are "unique" or "specific" students of the school?

    I'd be glad if someone could clarify this for me.

  2. apex2000's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: meaning of "the" as unique or specific?

    You are heading in the right direction but see this:
    The driver got badly hurt. The driver is both unique and specific - there can only be the one driver.
    The/a consulting manager. We could use both initially because we have no knowledge of the managerial set up. Saying the manager is used loosely by those who have little or no knowledge of the organisation. However, if you know that Mr X is one of a number of managers then you would use his name instead of the/a xxxxxxxxxx manager.
    The houses on the hill (assuming that the listener knows which hill you are referring to) are both unique and specific, unless you intend to refer to some of a number. Then you might say those 5 houses right at the top of the hill....... Quite specific and unique in that whilst other house may look the same they are not actually the same.

    "If all of us are five going to the same school and say "We are the students of ** school", does that mean we are "unique" or "specific" students of the school?"
    Firstly, do you mean that all of you are 5 years old, or, that all 5 of you are going to school? You are referring to 5 specific persons each of whom is unique.

  3. keannu's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: meaning of "the" as unique or specific?

    Thank you so much!
    As you indicated, I have been thinking in many cases that "the" can mean both unique and specific, but this also resulted in a confusion where it doesn't work in the following.

    ex)I am the man of wisdom.
    First of all,it sounds very arrogant. It means I am the only one(unique) wise man, but not a specific one, though. I guess it may mean a specific person, but I can't be sure of it.

    or He is the teacher of the school.
    This can mean "he is the only teacher of the school(unique)", but not a specific person(confusing) as many grammar sites explain specific ones come from previously mentioned ones or the ones the listener and the speaker both know already.

    "If all of us five are going to the same school and say "We are the students of ** school", does that mean we are "unique" or "specific" students of the school?"

    => For this, we are five students of possible 100 or more students of a school, but do we have to say "we are the students of ** school", but does it mean unique(I don't think so as 5 don't make unique with the total number usually more than 5) or specific(I doubt it as it usually refers to previously mentioned ones)

    Again, Can I ask for the wisdom of yours? (Is it your unique wisdom or specific one?)

  4. apex2000's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: meaning of "the" as unique or specific?

    Quote: I am the man of wisdom.
    Not only does it sound arrogant but it is arrogant (unless you can prove it against numerous other claims!). However if you were the only wise man then you would also be specific and unique.

    He is the only teacher, not specific nor unique because other schools have just the one teacher, but as Mr X he would be specific.

    So it is not to do with age. You will not say 'we are the students......' just 'we are students of....' neither unique nor specific. One student may be unique for a special reason (the only one to have six fingers on both hands in that school, say) and there may be a specific group for underwater swimming, say.

  5. Raymott's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: meaning of "the" as unique or specific?

    Quote Originally Posted by keannu View Post
    ... I don't know if native speakers perceive this as unique or specific.
    Native speakers would not even think about it. If you find this distinction useful, or if you are taught to use it, then that's OK. But it's merely someone's concept of two ways to use "the".
    As you say, many unique things are specific, and vice versa.

    "The" can also used for non-specific, non-unique things, as in "the reception desk" in your example. There may be several reception desks in the area, but that is usually not relevant. If it is important, you can say "... at one of the reception desks", or "... at the main reception desk".

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