8 The with types and groups of things
Do please read this section carefully!
The is used when we want to talk about certain types of things, and not one particular thing. For example:
The elephant is the biggest land animal in the world.
Here we are talking about a particular type of animal group in general, and not about a particular elephant. We talk about the hippopotamus, the dog, the fish, the whale and other groups of animals in the same way. These are types of animals, not a type of hippopotamus, dog, fish, or whale.
It is not only animal groups we talk about in this way, but other things such as types of devices, types of musical instruments, types of public transport, etc, when we talk about them in general terms and not about specific examples:
Nigel Kennedy plays the violin. (The violin in general, not a specific violin)
The train is the fastest way to travel around the country. (The train in general, not a specific train)
The book as we know it today may well be replaced by the e-book. (Books and e-books in general, not specific or particular books or e-books.)
Now we shall compare the use of a/an and the in this context:
I have got an electronic keyboard. (I now possess one particular keyboard from among many electronic keyboards. I am not talking about the electronic keyboard in general.)
The electronic keyboard has changed the way music is performed. (I am talking about the keyboard in general, not a specific keyboard or a keyboard I now possess.)
But we do say I play guitar (in a band) or I play the guitar (the musical instrument).
The car was invented over a century ago. (the car in general, not a specific car.)
Have you got a car? (There are many cars – have you got one of them?)
I have washed the car. (my car)
We also use adjectives to describe groups. For example, instead of saying rich people, poor people, unemployed people, we generally use the, followed by only the adjective: The rich, the poor, the unemployed.
We can say the poor (or rich) on its own: Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor, but we can say the poor get really bad treatment, or poor people get really bad treatment if we want to place more emphasis on poor people in general.
We can also say the poor people in my city get really bad treatment, but this is usually done to emphasize a particular group of poor people (in this case, the poor people in my city), rather than poor people (or the poor) in general.
Note that although we use the singular form of the adjective, the meaning is always plural, and not for one person: the hungry, the sick, the wealthy. If we want to mention just one individual, then we should say the hungry person, the hurt woman, the overweight man, etc.
With nationalities, things are not so clear and there are some rules to think about. When we talk about certain groups of nationalities in general, we use the plural:
The Germans, the Italians, the Hungarians, the Belgians, the Russians.
If we simply say, ‘the German’, this is the shortened form meaning of ‘the German person’, not German people.
We use the singular form about the nationality of people for more than one person from a country, if the nationality ends with –ch (the French), or –sh (the Welsh), or –ese (the Vietnamese). We do not make them plural. (The Czechs is an exception, but this is because the ending is a ‘k’ sound, and not a ‘ch’!).
So when we talk about Dutch people in general, we say, the Dutch.
The French are very proud of their heritage. (French people in general, not a specific group of French people who are very proud of their heritage).
The Senegalese are very traditional.
l) A QUICK CHECK (15 minutes)
Answer these three questions:
1. What is the biggest land animal in the world? ___________________.
2. What land animal has the longest neck? _________________.
3. What animal has eight legs and makes webs? ______________.
Now fill in the gaps with a or the:
4. I can play ______ guitar.
5. There was _______ 52” HD TV in the room.
6. _______ modern computer was invented in the 20th century.
Decide if you should use the or zero article:
7. ______ unemployed people should help in local communities.
8. There should be more help given to ______ unemployed in helping them to find work.
Decide if you need to add ‘s’ to the following groups of nationalities:
9. The Norwegian.
10. The Spanish.
11. The Austrian.
12. The New Zealander.
13. The Japanese.
Here are the answers below. If you are not sure, read through the notes above one more time.
1. The elephant; 2. The giraffe; 3. The spider.
4. I can play the guitar. (without the suggests that you play in a group or orchestra)
5. There was a 52” HD TV in the room.
6. The modern computer was invented in the 20th century.
7. Ø Unemployed people should help in local communities.
8. There should be more help given to the unemployed in helping them to find work.
9. The Norwegians; 10. The Spanish; 11. The Austrians; 12. The New Zealanders; 13. The Japanese.
This was quite a section to understand so I do stress that you read and reread this before you move on.
Once you have done that, then click below to the next section!