Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

From Oxford dictionary :

He was careful not to say anything that might incriminate the others.

Should it not be "He was careful not to say anything that might incriminate others"? If the sentence in the dictionary is correct, what does "the" signify here?

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you are a non-native speaker, you perhaps need to make yourself more familiar with the use of the English definite and indefinite articles. Briefly, the significance of the in the sentence is that it limits others to those that have already been mentioned earlier in the conversation or narrative.

share|improve this answer
    
In this case it is a single line and "others" have not been mentioned earlier . So I do not understand why you are assuming that there have been references to "others" in the past . –  Geek Oct 19 '12 at 7:38
2  
@Geek, exactly because the definite article is there. –  SingerOfTheFall Oct 19 '12 at 7:47
1  
@Geek: The single line is an extract. As the previous comment says, the presence of the definite article forces us to assume an earlier mention. –  Barrie England Oct 19 '12 at 8:05
    
...in essence, with an excerpt we must assume either the article refers to an earlier (not included) phrase, or it's a mistake. Since there are no premises to assume the latter, the correct course of action is to assume the former. –  SF. Oct 19 '12 at 8:35
    
@SF: especially when the context is an example sentence in a dictionary! –  J.R. Oct 19 '12 at 8:39

To me, it suggests that the speaker is a member of some group, and the article the implies that he didn't say anything to incriminate those in the rest of the group.

Omitting the article would make the sentence mean he was careful not to incriminate anyone. But when you say the others, it refers to some subset of people.

What group? It could be a gang of theives, a corporate board, members of a political party, members of his family, cosuspects in a case, codefendents in a lawsuit. The sentence only provides a pronoun – so, nobody knows what group it is! However, I'm confident that, with more information (who was talking, the nature of the questioning, etc.), I could figure it out.

For example, if the person was Lance Armstrong, and the sentence was uttered this week, I would surmise that the others might refer to fellow cyclists, probably on his team.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.