City University of Hong Kong CLASS CLASS
Making Sense of Grammar
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DEC TA1 Group 2


1. Countable concrete noun

  1a) “I love movies”

  1b) “I love the movies”

2. Uncountable concrete noun

  2a) I will give you money

  2b) I will give you the money you lost before. 

3. Plural uncountable noun

  3a) Have you tried the glasses

  3b) The jeans are beautiful but expensive. 

4. Uncountable abstract noun

  4a) He wants to gain weight.

  4b) He wants to gain the weight that he lost during the coronavirus outbreak.

asked Apr 7, 2022 in Questions about English Grammar by LWSA (260 points)
retagged Apr 7, 2022 by LWSA | 866 views

2 Answers

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For native speakers whose languages have no articles, or even have articles, they will be confused with the rules of articles in English. The article is the most common determiner in English. There are two types of articles: indefinite and definite.

Countable or concrete nouns without articles 

there are exceptions that definite articles can be omitted before countable or concrete nouns. Indefinite articles will not be used in plural countable nouns and should be excluded when something is general. In example (1a), “I love movies” means movies in general; in (1b)I love the movies” refers to a specific movie.

Also, the definite article is omitted before some phrases or compound words. For instance, “school”, “college” and “home” are the places that the doer goes regularly so it is unnecessary to use “the” to specify the noun.

Moreover, “the” is marked before the names of some countries while some are not. “The” should not be placed in front of countries except “kingdom”, “states” and “lands”. However, there are some exceptional cases. Even if some of the places are not “kingdom”, “states” and “lands”, “the” is added in front of the country as they are located in special geographical regions or they have special geographical features. For instance, “the Philippines” is located on Philippines Island; “the Gambia” has the River of Gambia; “the Congo” is due to the recurrence of the imagery of the Congo rainforest and “the Netherlands” is located on a lowland. Moreover, the prime minister of the Gambia insisted on using “The Gambia” because they didn’t want people to have confusion with “Zambia” and “Gambia”. Furthermore, the name comes from the word “Ukrayina,” which means “borderland.” Based on this etymology, the “geographical feature” rule could explain the presence of the definite article in “the Ukraine”.

answered Apr 7, 2022 by LWSA (260 points)
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Articles for concrete uncountable or abstract nouns

Secondly, only the definite article can situate articles in front of uncountable or abstract nouns under some special circumstances. Basically, uncountable concrete nouns are defined as something tangible and can be felt by five senses. When these nouns refer to general things in the context, they should not follow "the". If an uncountable concrete noun refers to a specific thing, “the” can be used with it. From (2a), "money" is uncountable and non-specific. In contrast, "the money" is used in (2b). It denotes that "the money" is a definite referent known by the undergoer and mentioned by the doer before. More importantly, "you lost before" in (2b) is a non-restrictive appositive that complements "money". Therefore, "the" should be used with uncountable nouns. 

Some plural uncountable nouns can be used with “the”. From examples (3a) and (3b), "glasses" and "jeans" are concrete, uncountable and plural. They have no singular form but only refer to a specific object and subject. Hence, only a definite article is appropriate in these cases. 

Uncountable abstract nouns can also be placed before “the”. Abstract nouns cannot be physically experienced, but they are not unreal. In (4a), "weight" is a generic noun. However, in (4b), "the'' placed in front of "weight" refers to a specific time and the defining relative clause used after the noun "weight" indicates the exact time. Then, only when an abstract noun is specified, should the definite article be used before it.

As time-related nouns are considered abstract nouns in general. However, “the” can be positioned in front of some time-related nouns which indicate certain parts of the day, like "in the morning / afternoon / evening”. Yet, other time-related nouns do not contain articles after the prepositions, such as“at noon / night / midnight”. The important factors determining the use “in the” or “at” depend on the length of time and specificity. “Morning”, “afternoon” and “evening” occupy longer periods in a day; however, “noon”  and “midnight” are particular time points in a day. Hence, using “at” can signal the preciseness of time. Even though “at night” is used commonly, “night” seems to be a period instead of a particular time. It is more generic while “in the night” refers to a specific night that something happens. However, “the” is not the key factor in determining whether “morning/ afternoon/ evening” are non-specific or specific. For example, “in the morning” refers to any morning in general. However, changing the preposition from "in" to "on" can make the phrase and the time specific. It is concluded that the definite article is not only used to refer to something specific. 

Last but not least, the definite article can change the parts of speech from an adjective to a noun. For example, “the elderly” and “the poor” refer to specific groups of people who share some characteristics of the adjectives. Moreover, many nationality adjectives followed by “the”, like “the Spanish” turn into nouns to show people’s nationalities. Nevertheless, not all nationality adjectives can have this change. If the word ends in “-an”, there is no article before it and “-s” should be added instead. 

answered Apr 7, 2022 by LWSA (260 points)

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