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Which is correct?

  • The fascinating features of human voice

    OR

  • The fascinating features of the human voice

Is there a rule or is it another difference between American and British English? We always use 'the' for the human brain. How about in this case, 'human voice'? By the way, this example comes from an academic paper.

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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Consider:

  1. I can hear a human voice.
  2. I can hear the human voice.
  3. I can hear human voice(s).

In #1, I can hear a voice which belongs to some individual person, and is not the voice or call of any other kind of animal. In #2, I'm stating that I have the ability to hear the voices of humans in general. In #3, I find myself hearing the sound of some human voice, from one or more people, as I might hear wind or smell food.

In this last sense, human voice is like bird song: it's sort of an abstract substance. Say I go into a cafeteria, where I'm surrounded by the sound of voice, then I hear a voice and turn around to see my friend calling me, whereupon I sit with him and we discuss my research of the voice.

If you want to make general statements about the vocal abilities of humans, use the human voice.

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@Jon Purdy: (1) “If you want to make general statements about the vocal abilities of humans, use the human voice.” – Isn’t it like in a certain context the definite article can also be applied to only one voice, especially when that one voice has already been mentioned several times earlier and is not a new thing for the listener/reader? Like, for example, in this passage (please disregard my broken English in it – my main purpose was just to provided the context): “On a remote planet, where –  brilliant Jan 17 '11 at 12:03
    
@Jon Purdy: (2) only terrible monsters could make themselves homes there once lived three terrible monsters: Danny, Gummy and Papaya. They all lived in their caves – each one in his own cave – all three caves being inside of one mountain. Danny was the bravest among all of them. One day he decided to explore a mountain that was located not far away from the place where they lived. It turned out that there was also a big cave in that mountain, but no one lived in it. Danny was proud to –  brilliant Jan 17 '11 at 12:04
    
@Jon Purdy: (3) inform Gummy and Papaya of a new cave that he had found. Three monsters began to visit that cave frequently even though no one lived in there. The cave was quite big and they all liked it. One day, however, something strange happened – Danny reported hearing a human voice inside of that cave. Gummy and Papaya did not believe him – they thought he was just trying to scare them. Three days later, however, Gummy also heard a human voice in that cave. When he described it to Danny, they both realized that it –  brilliant Jan 17 '11 at 12:05
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@Jon Purdy: Great answer. You could perhaps clarify that the definite article is also used to describe a class or category of something. "The tiger in the garden is eating my roses." vs. "The tiger is an almost-extinct species of animal." –  Tragicomic Jan 17 '11 at 13:07
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@brilliant: You'd say "the human voices" in a situation where you need to draw a distinction between human voices and some other voices. Say there's a bunch of humans and aliens in a room, and the humans are much louder: "The human voices drowned out the alien ones". –  Jon Purdy Jan 17 '11 at 21:18
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To me, there seems to be a subtle difference in the meaning.

Without the word "the", the phrase seems to be comparing or contrasting the human voice to something else (i.e. "The fascinating features of human voice as opposed to whale sounds...

Using the word "the", the phrase seems to stand on its own.

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