Webs are beautiful. (I'm sure it is a generic reference.)

The web is beautiful. (I'm sure it is a specific reference.)

The Web is beautiful. (This web refers to the World Wide Web, a specific web in the world. It differs from the specific reference, where the web is only known in the context of the speaker and not for the reader.

In other words, the web should be some specific web, but for the reader, nobody knows which exact web it refers to.

Is this called "particular reference" or is there another name for it?)

  • 3
    It's unclear what you're getting at here. Where do you get the "generic reference" and "specific reference" concepts from? To me, using "the Web" to refer to the WWW seems quite specific.
    – Rupe
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 11:07
  • Good point. Sometimes, words acquire what seems like a hyper-specific connotation, in context or free of context. (the) Web, short for 'The World Wide Web (WWW),' is a good example. However, I think this is not part of the grammar dealing with how the article helps distinguish between general and specific reference. Rather, it's kind of idiomatic.
    – Kris
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 11:39
  • 1
    I think I have got an answer here: ok5266.com/class/grammar/lecture%207.htm. According to this article, the first is generic reference, and the second is situational reference, the third is definite specific reference.
    – Jhz832
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 12:44
  • 1
    @Jhz832: Nah. The example it gives there for a "definite specific reference" is "Old Tom owns a dog and a cat. The dog’s name is Boris". Where it just so happens that in context we know exactly which particular dog is being references. In the case of "The Web", it makes no sense to say we know which web is being referenced - the two-word term is a proper noun, in and of itself. Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 13:21
  • @Jhz832 That reference is purely grammatical. The case in hand is different.
    – Kris
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 13:47

3 Answers 3


I think you are referring to the concept of "definiteness."

In linguistics, definiteness is a semantic feature of noun phrases (NPs), distinguishing between referents/entities that are identifiable in a given context (definite noun phrases) and entities which are not (indefinite noun phrases). In English, for example, definite noun phrases preclude asking "which one?"

Noun phrases are either "definite" or "indefinite." A definite noun phrase refers to something specific. Example: "the web is beautiful." If you put this sentence into context, I would be able to identify the specific "web" in question.

Indefinite noun phrases refer to concepts that are more generic. "Webs are beautiful" contains an indefinite noun phrase. It refers to the abstract "concept" or "class" of webs, rather than any specific web.

Hope that helps.


I think it should be "specific reference" and "general reference". Here are the definitions:




The feature in question is binary: a noun is either universal (generic) or existential (particular). These are universal: [All] Cats eat mice {because habitual verb}, A cat eats mice {habitual again}. These are particular: A cat ate a mouse. The cat eats mice. Felix eats mice. 'The Web' is a (particular) proper noun with a dummy definite article added for clarity.

'Particular' and 'specific' mean the same thing.

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