Teachers and native speakers :)
I was doing exercises about passive, came across these two sentences:
"When was the telephone invented?"
"When was television invented?" (without "the")
And we say "the history of television" not "the history of the television"
We use "the" when we talk about instruments, telephone but not television.
Why is that?

2 Answers 2


I disagree with the premise: you are confusing two separate phenomena.

The television is primarily a technological artifact.

"The history of the television" relates to the history of the device -- i.e. to the discoveries in materials science and the invention and development of the components of a TV set that made it possible to physically build it, plus the work to condense all the necessary information, materials and expertise into a device capable of transmitting pictures plus sound.

Television (without the the) is primarily a cultural construct.

"The history of television" encompasses the development of the practical techniques, together with the philosophical and artistic underpinnings, connected with the informational content for which the physical device which we call a television or a television set is merely the conduit.

  • Do you mean "history of television" and "history of the television" are both right, depends on we are talking about the culture or the machine itself? How about the invention situation? It doesn't seem like it meant the invention of TV culture.
    – Liam
    May 16, 2014 at 3:19
  • @Liam - Yes, I do mean that they are both right, depending on whether it is the physical device or the content it is carrying that is being focused on. As for the question you quoted, "When was television invented?" -- who can be sure what the person had in mind if that's all they asked? There is no accompanying information that tells us whether they were thinking of the device or the programming content. That being said, I suppose the presumption is that they probably mean the device (because its invention can be more narrowly pinned to a date); but the wording is nevertheless sloppy.
    – Erik Kowal
    May 16, 2014 at 3:47
  • Television, radio and cinema have to dual service as the count nouns (concrete) and the non-count nouns (abstract, but there's not always such a nice correspondence). Telephone (the count noun, again concrete) has the partner telephony to cater for the 'practical techniques', technology ... May 16, 2014 at 16:22

At least in the realm of mass communications and entertainment, when speaking of a medium or a technology, we omit the article:

Television has been declining for generations.

Hers is the biggest name in comics.

You should be able to reach the client by phone.

Units of consumption of a medium or technology take an article:

We have time to see a film.

I plan to get the comics this weekend.

Similarly, individual devices used to consume the media or employ the technology would take an article:

Did you connect the television?

Have you got a phone with you?

Thus, the inclusion or omission of an article changes the meaning. He loves the film means he likes one particular film, whereas he loves film means he is an aficionado of the entire medium of film. She shook football means she has shaken the world of football; she shook the football means she is agitating something she is holding in her hands.

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