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ESL forum > Ask for help > Articles    



Hi everyone
Im seeking internet references for the situation where we can write with both a zero article (some times also called zero determiner) or use the definite article.  For example:
Icy highways are dangerous. The icy highways are dangerous. Both are correct. [http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/determiners/determiners.htm]
As a NS it comes naturally to me but now I am tring to find web references that help explain it to my students.  Everything Ive found so far doesnt seem to drill down to this level. 
Hope you can help ...
Happy Easter --- Jayho

4 Apr 2010      

United States

Wow! I don t know if you re going to find a webpage with more information than that, but I see the explanation as pretty simple (but maybe I m over-simplifying it).
I say "no article", since that clearly indicates the situation where there is no article. "The" is called the definite article because it describes a definite, specific thing, such as in "The icy highways are dangerous." This sentence is talking about the highways in our area right now (fortunately not right now, because Spring began recently and the weather in Cincinnati has been beautiful). Without an article, "Icy highways are dangerous" talks about highways in general, anywhere in the world. It is a simple statement of a general fact.
Ferrets are entertaining pets.  (a general statement)
The ferrets are entertaining pets.  (talking about my ferrets)
Polish Easter eggs are very intricate and beautiful.  (a general statement)
The Polish Easter eggs are very intricate and beautiful.  (talking about specific eggs I am looking at, and possibly comparing to other eggs)
An additional note:
Often (maybe even usually) we use "the" with a noun that is already part of the conversation. In your "The icy highways are dangerous" example, there was probably already a conversation about driving or safety or the weather, or any combination of those things, and the highways actually were icy at the time.
I hope this helps you and others to explain it well to your students.

4 Apr 2010     

Kate (kkcat)
Russian Federation

Another case when we can use a zero article and the definite article: Tigers are dangerous. The tiger is a dangerous animal (the tiger - meaning a kind of an animal)...

Bruce, great explanation, as always! Thumbs Up
 Happy Easter to you too

4 Apr 2010     


Hi Bruce and Kate
Thanks for your replies.
Im looking deeper than into basic article usage.  Its for academic writing. 
For example, when writing an essay on computers we can write:
"Computers are considered to be ... " or "The computer is considered to be ...":
"People often consider computers to be..." or "People often consider the computer to be ...". 
Kates example is the same. 
I have noticed a recurring error where students write "Computer is considered to be ..." so Id like to find something that indicates why we can use both of those forms.
I hope that clarifies it - sorry I wasn t as clear in my initial post - I wrote it in haste.
Cheers  ---   Jayho

4 Apr 2010     


Heavy thinking for a Sunday morning!

If the noun is singular, we need to use an article - "People consider the computer..." whereas if the noun is used in the plural form, we don t use an article unless we want to show that we are talking specifically about a certain group - "People consider the computers (in the university library)..."

Don t know whether that helps or if I m just rehashing Bruce and Kate s points!


4 Apr 2010     


These  are interesting articles about the use of the definite artlcle - not quite what you want but interesting nonetheless



This looks briefly at what you are asking about but not in any depth


Scroll down and there s an interesting section on the distinction between indefinite, definite and plural forms.


That s all I ve got, I m afraid - it s been a while since I was studying linguistics!


4 Apr 2010     


Hi everyone
The problem is now solved.  Thanks to everyone who helped via PM and this forum thread.
Basically, we can use the with a singular count noun when we want to make generalisations / general statements about all things of that type.  For example, when we say "The whale is the largest mammal in the world" we mean all whales, not one particular whale.  Of course, we can also write "Whales are the largest mammals in the world".
This style, though not usually used in everyday speech, is often used in formal writing, particularly technical, scientific and academic writing at higher levels.  I see it often in academic journals and text books.  I just never knew the grammatical reasoning behind it but now I know and I am delighted - another grammar feat - yay!
If you are looking for information on it for your own reference in regards to academic writing take a look at Oxford Practice Grammar, Cobuild English Grammar and Cobuild Intermediate English Grammar.  Also, there is a useful web reference (pt. 4) here .
P.S.  Thanks for the links Lindsey - they are interesting.

4 Apr 2010