articles: talking in general

  • We do not use the with uncountable or plural nouns to talk
    about things in general — to talk about all books, all people or all life, for example. The never means ‘all’. Compare:
      Did you remember to buy the books7 (= particular books which I asked you to buy)
      Books are expensive. (NOT The books are expensive. We are talking about books in general — all books.)
      I’m studying the life of Beethoven. (= one particular life)
      Life is hard. (NOT The life …. This means ‘all life’.)
      ‘Where’s the cheese?’ I ate it:’
      Cheese is made from milk.
      Could you put the light on?
      Light tra vets at 300,000 km a second.
  • Sometimes we talk about things in general by using a singular noun as an example. We use a/an with the noun (meaning ‘any’).
      A baby deer can stand as soon as it is born.
      A child needs plenty of love.

    We can also use the with a singular countable noun in generalizations (but not with plural or uncountable nouns — see 1 above). This is common with the names of scientific instruments and inventions, and musical instruments.

      Life would be quieter without the telephone
      The violin is more difficult than the piano.
  • These common expressions have a general meaning: the town, the country, the sea, the seaside, the mountains, the rain, the wind, the sun(shine).
      I prefer the mountains to the sea I hate the rain
      Would you rather live in the town or the country?
      We usually go to the seaside for our holidays.
      I like lying in the sun(shine). I like the noise of the wind.