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Do I need a definite article before "sleep" in the following sentence?

How do they call in English that yellowish substance that is gathered in the corner of a human eye during the sleep?

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I wouldn't use it. You are not referring to a specific kind of sleep, but sleep in general. –  Noah Jul 7 '12 at 9:22
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Definitely not. It reads much more natural without the the. –  J.R. Jul 7 '12 at 9:24
    
In your example sleep is an abstract noun, so you shouldn't use the before it. –  user19148 Jul 7 '12 at 11:34
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I actually can't think of any example where you'd use the definite article for the meaning of sleep in your sample sentence.

However, it's interesting to note that the word used for said yellowish substance is also sleep. And for this meaning of sleep, the definite article is appropriate. E.g. I wiped the sleep from my eyes.

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Very interesting point. I had always taken that as a metaphor, rather than a description of rheum. And wiping the sleep implies getting rid of all of it, whereas wiping sleep is just the gesture. –  TimLymington Jul 7 '12 at 11:13
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"The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep."—Ecclesiastes 5:12. "Well, if you must you must. I suppose that you need the sleep of the just."—Elvis Costello. –  Peter Shor Jul 7 '12 at 11:30
    
@PeterShor thanks for the examples. It was inevitable that someone would take up the challenge. :) –  Craig Young Jul 7 '12 at 12:31
    
As stuff in the eye, 'sleep' is an uncountable noun: 'You've got sleep in your eye, wipe it off'. 'Wiping the sleep.. ' suggests to me waking up properly after waking. –  Barry Brown Jul 10 '12 at 18:59
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As per the other answers, the article is obligatory absent here. But you could avoid the issue by saying, instead, when you sleep. An idiomatic version of the question would be:

What's the English for that yellowish stuff that gathers in the corner of your eye when you sleep?

(How do they call sounds foreign, and the passive is gathered wrongly implies an agent who gathers, which the middle gathers avoids. Human eye and substance are both fine, but rather formal sounding.)

(BTW: the answer in my dialect of English is sleepy dust, but I know that other dialects have different names for it.)

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What dialect is this? –  brilliant Jul 7 '12 at 12:27
    
Australian. (I live, work, and write in Britain / British English, but all my "childish" words are Australian.) –  Daniel Harbour Jul 10 '12 at 18:02
    
I don't see that 'the stuff that gathers' implies an agent - it gathers of its own accord. It would suggest an agent if it were 'the stuff that is gathered' - passive construction without an agent stated. –  Barry Brown Jul 10 '12 at 19:02
    
That's exactly what I said. –  Daniel Harbour Jul 10 '12 at 22:16
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