An acquaintance of mine who was born in Long Island has taken to putting the definite article "the" in front of nouns when he speaks. For example "I love the Google" or "In NYC I met the boyfriend" (referring to his own boyfriend) Even though this is common in romance languages, is it proper English or an affectation?

  • It's not standard English (of any variety I know), but it is sometimes done for hipster style reasons. I don't know where it comes from. It sounds slightly like 'the Donald'. – Mitch Jan 3 '14 at 22:41
  • Thank you Mitch. Isn't "The Donald" used by Mr. Trump because he refers to himself in the third person? It's the kind of usage I find to be the epitome of pretentiousness, and just a step before the total insanity of saying "we" instead of "I" – user61257 Jan 3 '14 at 22:47
  • Related. – Elberich Schneider Jan 3 '14 at 22:52
  • It's certainly something, but I don't think pretentious is it. – snailboat Jan 4 '14 at 1:21

Cockneys are anything but pretentious but will refer to 'the wife',( or 'the missus', or 'the dear duchess'), the mother-in-law, etc. And plenty of other people do that in Britain, a lot of them with layers of irony.

Often people when they are discussing somebody may interject 'I know the father/ mother/boy-friend' i.e. the father/mother/boy-friend of the person under discussion. Sometimes it comes across in a patronising way, but I wouldn't call it pretentious.

Having said that the sort of examples you quote do sound a bit pretentious. But can you not pull this chap's leg by asking him where he bought 'the shoes', or if he enjoyed 'the breakfast'?

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    I appreciate your comment WS2. It seems that the cases you mention either denote social class/education or a certain sarcasm. I have heard very educated people refer to Maria Callas as "The Callas" in order to give her diva, and uber human status. However, I have also heard people referring to someone as "the girl" or "the fiancé" in order to denigrate. I suppose it depends on context or tone of voice. – user61257 Jan 4 '14 at 0:01
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    @user61257 Ultimately I think we all have a sense of when someone is being sarcastic/pretentious/awkward/malevolent. But it can be infuriatingly difficult to lay down any ground rules. – WS2 Jan 4 '14 at 0:17

I think Mitch is correct that it may not be standard English, but I don't think there is anything technically wrong with it. If the scope of the noun is understood from context or implication, I can't see why using "the" to replace a singular possessive is wrong in those specific examples.

Both of the following sentences will lead you to the same conclusion.

  1. "The Google is awesome."
  2. "Google is awesome."

The following will not.

  1. "The lawn is so green."
  2. "My lawn is so green."

Um, which lawn?

If I put on my student hat and remember correctly, there is something called x-bar theory which postulates that all English words have a determiner, but that the determiner (e.g., the article) may be omitted. They are called bare nouns (and the missing articles called zero articles). I'll try to pull up some sources and examples when I get home.

I don't think there is a fixed rule other than convention, which is as good as a rule for me. Below is my attempt at a personal codification, though.

You cannot (or should not) use "the" as an article if...

  1. There is no context that elucidates its use.
  2. You are referring to a person. The Mojave Desert is fine (and correct), The Tom Riddle is not.
  3. The object of the sentence is plural or contested (e.g., "I have five dogs. My favorite is the dog").
  4. You don't have to.

You can only (but still probably shouldn't) use "the" as an article if...

  1. The "the" is understood to be synonymous with the possessive it's replacing.

If his sentence caused you to pause and think, "wait, which boyfriend?" then I think there'd be a case.

To your overarching question, though, your friend may be a bit pretentious. He definitely is if he just started doing this in response to hearing someone else say it and thinking it was nifty, edgy, or a means to differentiate himself. You can tell him I said so.

And I'm rambling.

Edited to organize.

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    I would definitely not call referring to your significant other with a definite article pretentious—rather the opposite (similar to what WS2 writes). “The Google”, or even “The Googles”, is a bit of an Internet meme, so that is probably a bit pretentious … but ultimately, it’s just a joke. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 4 '14 at 0:40
  • I would expand #2 to apply to corporations as well. "The Google" sounds just as goofy as "The Tom Riddle", though both could be used for various ironic/humorous/pretentions reasons in certain situations. – Lynn Jan 4 '14 at 0:41
  • Thank you for your valuable comments. I guess we could all agree that the overuse of the definite article is as bothersome as the absence of it...such a the phrase "When I told the Donald what an idiot he was, he shut door on my face" – user61257 Jan 4 '14 at 6:30

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