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In my opinion, 'the' is a definite article. It emphasis saying "that one only". Why then 'the' before winter season. There is only one kind of winter season. There cannot be different kind of winter season. For example, the food means that specific food, food - means general. The winter seasons means specific, whereas winter season is not specific, it is general only. I am confused here because someone has corrected me to use the before winter season. Please help.

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    It all depends on context. Can you tell us the sentence you have questions on? Also, you may be interested in ell.stackexchange.com which may be more suitable for this question. – Jim Oct 18 '13 at 3:16
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    "In my opinion, 'the' is a definite article"? The is a definite article by definition. You don't need to have an opinion on it, and even if you do it does not matter. – RegDwigнt Oct 18 '13 at 10:43
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Rather than seeing the definite article in this usage as indicating a particular winter, I see it as (at least usually) referencing the particular season that is winter.

The hunting season. The holiday season (is when most hoteliers make their money).

The diesel locomotive (can mean 'as opposed to the horse, the electric 'locomotive', the steam locomotive – ie a particular type of motive power – or 'the actual piece of metal I'm talking about').

The floribunda rose (was introduced by the Danish breeder Dines Poulsen in 1907).

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This is not a question of semantics, but of syntax.

The word season does not fall in any of the classes of noun which can be used without an determiner (plurals, mass nouns, proper nouns) and so requires a determiner (an article, a demonstrative, a possessive, a quantifier etc). Having a modifier such as Winter before it makes no difference.

Winter itself is different, having some of the characteristics of a proper noun (not all of them: it may take the, whereas typical proper nouns don't).

  • So why do we not use 'the' in front of 'hospital' as do the Americans? Does that have 'characteristics of a proper noun'? See my exchange below with Kristina Lopez. – WS2 Oct 18 '13 at 13:38
  • I hadn't thought of that analysis before, but yes, I think hospital etc is a quasi-proper noun. Note that it can't be pluralised or even modified; and that it has a particular meaning: in hospital means as a patient, not just visiting. I think it's only hospital where we differ from the Americans. We agree about college, jail and school (though we say at school and they say in school). – Colin Fine Oct 18 '13 at 23:16
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    @ Colin Fine I think the same applies to 'university'. Yes, it is interesting that, in the UK, doctors and nurses work in a/the hospital, but only patients are 'in hospital'. Similarly lecturers teach at a/the university but students go 'to university'. It is almost as though the term 'in hospital' is a sort of compound adjective describing a state of being of the individual; similarly being 'at university' as regards a student. – WS2 Oct 19 '13 at 6:41
  • Also, of course, only prisoners are 'in jail/prison' The prison officers work 'at the prison'. But as you have noted this form is accepted by Americans too. – WS2 Oct 19 '13 at 6:48
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Typically this is used to describe a particular instance of the season, rather than a particular type of season:

The squirrel here is collecting nuts in preparation for the winter.

In this context, "the winter" means the (unique) next winter season.

There are multiple instances of winter occurring, so the is justified. The indefinite article can also be used in such phrases as:

The crops were ruined by a particularly bitter winter.

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    In this instance, it is worth pointing out that you could (in Queen's English) dispense with the definite article and say 'The squirrel is collecting nuts in preparation for winter'. (Americans may disagree) But if you used 'winter season' it would require a 'the' in front of it. This is for the reason to which you refer in your question. Winter is a recurring event. Whereas the next 'winter season' is something more specific. It must seem confusing! – WS2 Oct 18 '13 at 9:30
  • @WS2, not sure why you'd think that but Americans agree that 'in preparation for winter' is acceptable. :-) – Kristina Lopez Oct 18 '13 at 12:56
  • @Kristina Lopez Sorry if I have got that wrong. I know that you will use the definite article in situations where we have abandoned it; e.g. you talk of being 'taken to "the" hospital', where we would say 'taken to hospital'. I just had the idea that 'winter,summer etc' would be in that category. I know there are other instances. – WS2 Oct 18 '13 at 13:31
  • @WS2, you're absolutely right - we still use the definite article in cases of "the hospital", "the university", etc. It's tricky to second-guess the nuances of each others' version of English, isn't it? :-) – Kristina Lopez Oct 18 '13 at 13:39
  • @Kristina Lopez See my exchange above with Colin Fine. I don't know if he can supply any clue as to why we have dropped the identifier for hospital, university, school etc. Presumably because these are quasi-proper nouns. – WS2 Oct 18 '13 at 13:42
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In my opinion, 'the' is a definite article. It emphasis saying "that one only".

You can get into trouble learning a rule of thumb about an article, and then going through life assuming that the word is always used in that way, and in that way only.

When I look up the in NOAD, I find six definitions. Surely, then, the article has a wider scope than what was initially expressed in your “opinion.” For example, the third definition reads:

the (article) used to make a generalized reference to something rather than identifying a particular instance : he taught himself to play the violin | worry about the future.

I suspect your use of winter season might have been similar: We need to get some firewood before the winter season. I wouldn't exclude the article in that sentence.

When a word is used by a credible source, and that usage doesn't jibe with your preconceived ideas about that word's meaning, there's a good chance the word can be more widely applied than you initially thought. This seems to be especially true with articles and prepositions, which are mightily flexible little imps.

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