# Thread: the choice of car vs the choice of a car

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## Re: the choice of car vs the choice of a car

Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein
No.
1a) The colour of a car can tell you a lot about its driver.
1b) The colour of the car he drives can tell you a lot about him.

2a) The type of a car can tell you a lot about its driver.
2b) The type of the car he drives can tell you a lot about him.

Why are type and colour grammatically interchangeable in 1a) and 2a), but not in 1b) and 2b)?

2. ## Re: the choice of car vs the choice of a car

Originally Posted by Alexey86
The type of car is an inseparable semantic unit, while the type of a car consists of two parts with the first functioning as a property of the second, so we can change the type to the color or some other feature.
I'm not completely sure but I think you're on the right lines. Let me present this in a different way.

You can use certain 'category' words (that's my made-up term) in two quite distinct senses—as general abstract concepts and as a discrete labels of description. Let's take colour as an example.

The colour of car you drive says a lot about you.

In the sentence above, colour of car essentially means red or blue or black or yellow or pink. That is to say, the word colour has the sense of referring to a very particular wavelength of light. This is the sense we use when we say that 'green is a colour'. We're talking about one discrete thing among many. The speaker is thinking that there's a finite number of different colours available. Cars come in certain colours.

The colour of a T-shirt fades after several washes.

Here, the word colour refers to the idea of colour, as an abstract concept. It's an open, non-discrete class. That's why it can be followed by an indefinite noun phrase. We're not talking about the particular colour (pink or green) of the T-shirt, but about the general quality of colour itself.

If this difference isn't clear, let's try another category word: size. Similarly, size can refer to a very general abstract concept of extension in space, but it can also refer to one of a group of particular instantiations of the general concept—for example, small/medium/large.

The size of a man's hands can tell you a lot about him. [open class]
How much you spend in McDonald's depends on the size of drink you order.
[discrete class]

Do you see? When you use a zero article, you're thinking about a discrete class, as opposed to an open one. It's the same with 'type', and other 'category' words.

Considering type as a separable feature, and as long as The colour of the car he drives can tell you a lot about him is correct, would this be correct:

The type of the car he drives can tell you a lot about him.
So in both those examples, you ought to use the zero article, because (I think) you're thinking about discrete classes. That is, you're thinking that cars come in certain discrete colours and types, and you can match these particular colours and types with particular character types.

(I live in hope that one day you might ask an easy question. Is that possible?)
Last edited by jutfrank; 08-May-2021 at 22:03.

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## Re: the choice of car vs the choice of a car

See Finding the Right Car For You by Iona Ferrari and Hiram Organ.

4. ## Re: the choice of car vs the choice of a car

Originally Posted by Rover_KE
See Finding the Right Car For You by Iona Ferrari and Hiram Organ.
I have a rather splendid volume on auto theft, by Jack Okupe and Luca van Robben.

(I'll never be as good as you, Rover.)

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## Re: the choice of car vs the choice of a car

Originally Posted by jutfrank
You can use certain 'category' words (that's my made-up term) in two quite distinct senses—as general abstract concepts and as a discrete labels of description. Let's take colour as an example.

So in both those examples, you ought to use the zero article, because (I think) you're thinking about discrete classes. That is, you're thinking that cars come in certain discrete colours and types, and you can match these particular colours and types with particular character types.
I would be happy with your explanation if I hadn't found these examples (all found on fraze.it):

a) He had chosen paint that matched the color of the temple as closely as possible.
b) This turned out to be true, she said, as evidenced by the color of the clusters.
c) Additionally, the color of the rocks can affect the organisms living on a shore.
d) He had seen the hit and run and had taken down the license and color of the car.

Aren't all these colors discrete? The temple has a particular color -> the color of the temple. The same goes for the others examples.
Would you please try to explain the difference between The colour of car you drive says a lot about you and The colour of the car you drive says a lot about you one more time?

Originally Posted by jutfrank
(I live in hope that one day you might ask an easy question. Is that possible?)
The next one will be easier.

Originally Posted by Rover_KE
See Finding the Right Car For You by Iona Ferrari and Hiram Organ.
Last edited by Alexey86; 08-May-2021 at 22:58.

6. ## Re: the choice of car vs the choice of a car

Originally Posted by Alexey86
1a) The colour of a car can tell you a lot about its driver.

Good.

1b) The colour of the car he drives can tell you a lot about him.

Good. It would also be fine without "the" in some contexts, but the meaning would be slightly different. Since there's no context, I can just say that the sentence is fine.

2a) The type of a car can tell you a lot about its driver.

I can't say using an article isn't grammatical, but I do know that it's much more natural without it.

2b) The type of the car he drives can tell you a lot about him.

See 2a.

Why are type and colour grammatically interchangeable in 1a) and 2a), but not in 1b) and 2b)?

I don't know. I know more about usage than grammar.
In fact, you know more about English grammar than I do.

7. ## Re: the choice of car vs the choice of a car

Originally Posted by Alexey86
I would be happy with your explanation if I hadn't found these examples (all found on fraze.it):

a) He had chosen paint that matched the color of the temple as closely as possible.
b) This turned out to be true, she said, as evidenced by the color of the clusters.
c) Additionally, the color of the rocks can affect the organisms living on a shore.
d) He had seen the hit and run and had taken down the license and color of the car.

Aren't all these colors discrete? The temple has a particular color -> the color of the temple. The same goes for the others examples.
Yes, that's right. Obviously, all of those examples use definite articles in definite noun phrases. Please let's not bring definite articles into this. At least, not in this thread. It's going to make everything much more complicated, and much harder to explain and understand. I'd focus solely on the use of the zero article, if I were you.

Would you please try to explain the difference between The colour of car you drive says a lot about you and The colour of the car you drive says a lot about you one more time?
I really don't want to get into definite articles here. I can't explain the difference without a lot of effort. I'll just say that the second sentence is probably what you mean, and I think you already know what the is doing there.

Again, I suggest you focus on the zero article use.

colour of car
make of car
type of car

These are all ways of referring to certain, particular colours, makes, and types. We don't need an article before car because it isn't necessary: There is no car being referred to.

The next one will be easier.
I'll hold you to that.

It was a joke. It isn't a real book.
Last edited by GoesStation; 09-May-2021 at 00:34. Reason: Fix a typo.

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## Re: the choice of car vs the choice of a car

I don’t know how to reconcile (1) with (2):

(1)
Originally Posted by jutfrank
The type of a car can tell you a lot about its driver.

This is like saying 'a car's type'. You can do the same kind of thing with other categories:

The colour of a car can tell you a lot about its driver.
The size of a car can tell you a lot about its driver.
The cost of a car can tell you a lot about its driver.
Originally Posted by jutfrank
My goal was to give you examples using the article. The point was that they don't work without the articles.
(2)
Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein

2a) The type of a car can tell you a lot about its driver.

I can't say using an article isn't grammatical, but I do know that it's much more natural without it.
If I got them correctly, these statements are at odds. jutfrank says The type of a car can tell you a lot about its driver requires the article, while Charlie says that not only is the indefinite article unnecessary there, but it's unnatural. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Originally Posted by jutfrank
I really don't want to get into definite articles here. I can't explain the difference without a lot of effort.
I can relate. It's important to remind ourselves that this forum is a hobby, not a job.

Originally Posted by jutfrank
I'll just say that the second sentence is probably what you mean, and I think you already know what the is doing there.
I don't. Honestly.

Originally Posted by jutfrank
Again, I suggest you focus on the zero article use.

colour of car
make of car
type of car

These are all ways of referring to certain, particular colours, makes, and types. We don't need an article before car because it isn't necessary: There is no car being referred to.
I don't quite get that. We can run the anaphor test:

The colour of car you drive says a lot about you. So does its size.

We couldn't use its if there were no car being referred to in the first sentence. Am I wrong?

9. ## Re: the choice of car vs the choice of a car

Originally Posted by Alexey86
If I got them correctly, these statements are at odds. jutfrank says The type of a car can tell you a lot about its driver requires the article, while Charlie says that not only is the indefinite article unnecessary there, but it's unnatural. Correct me if I'm wrong.
What can I say? The article is necessary. It's wrong without it. That's exactly the reason I chose this example!

I can relate. It's important to remind ourselves that this forum is a hobby, not a job.
You know I'm happy to help you understand things if I feel I'm getting somewhere. Sometimes it feels like I'm trying to provide a neverending explanation. Please tell me that all of the effort I've ever made in trying to explain how I think reference works has enlightened you in some way at least. I'm getting close to the point where I feel that if my explanations are no longer helping you, then you'll not make any more progress unless you start exploring for yourself some of the main philosophical ideas about how its possible to make sense of the world using language, and how use of language can reveal how we make sense of the world.

I don't. Honestly.
You do. The word the does what it always does. It does the only thing it can do. Every time you see the word the, you can be sure that it's a way for the speaker to make specific reference to something. That means that he has something particular in mind.

I don't quite get that. We can run the anaphor test:

The colour of car you drive says a lot about you. So does its size.

We couldn't use its if there were no car being referred to in the first sentence. Am I wrong?
Yes. The sentence is wrong. It needs the before car for it to make sense. The fact that you've added So does its size tells me that you're thinking of the antecedent of its as the car instead of the colour, which is a misinterpretation. You can't drive colours.

Think of the colour of car as equivalent in meaning to the car's colour or the car colour. It's about the colour, not the car. Think of the word car in the phrase as saying the type of colour. There are different types of colours—car colours, nail polish colours, pen colours, etc. There's no reference to any cars, nail polishes, or pens because those words just say what type of colour.
Last edited by jutfrank; 09-May-2021 at 02:21.

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## Re: the choice of car vs the choice of a car

Originally Posted by jutfrank
Please tell me that all of the effort I've ever made in trying to explain how I think reference works has enlightened you in some way at least.
Your explanations are always helpful, even if I don't fully understand them or feel satisfied. But let's take a broader look. This discussion is not only about you and me. I'm sure it can also be helpful for other learners having difficulties with articles. At least I noticed that my threads about articles are read by many visitors.

Originally Posted by jutfrank
you'll not make any more progress unless you start exploring for yourself some of the main philosophical ideas about how its possible to make sense of the world using language, and how use of language can reveal how we make sense of the world.
Aren't we exploring these ideas right now? If you mean reading books, the problem with them is I can't talk with their authors, but I can talk with you, which is priceless.

Originally Posted by jutfrank
Think of the colour of car as equivalent in meaning to the car's colour or the car colour. It's about the colour, not the car. Think of the word car in the phrase as saying the type of colour. There are different types of colours—car colours, nail polish colours, pen colours, etc. There's no reference to any cars, nail polishes, or pens because those words just say what type of colour.
Can we apply this to other features: the wheel of car, the steering wheel of car, the door of car and so on?

Originally Posted by jutfrank
Think of the colour of car as equivalent in meaning to the car's colour or the car colour. It's about the colour, not the car.
What does you drive modify in "The colour of car you drive says a lot about you"? What confuses me about this sentence is that without the article it sounds as if it's the colour of car that is drove. I really don't understand in what sense The colour of the car you drive says a lot about you is not about the colour in the first place.

I remember that you don't want to take a deep dive into the definite article. Would you just give me a context or two where you would only use the colour of the car?
Last edited by Alexey86; 09-May-2021 at 11:41.

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