The following sentence is from NY Times. "Another corporate structure being exploited now more than ever is the master limited partnership." In the sentence, the concept of "master limited partnership" is first introduced. So, It does not have any contextual clues to identify what that refers to. But still it has "the" in it. However, the "the" in the sentence might not be used generically as the generic use of nouns is pretty much limited to nouns of animal, plant, or inventions. Then, what is the function of "the" there? What is the difference between the sentence and when I just say "a master limited partnership" or "master limited partnerships"?


2 Answers 2


The answer in John Lawler's comment is correct:

It's a Definite Generic Noun Phrase. It's an abstraction.

You suggest other possibilities:

Another corporate structure being exploited now more than ever is a master limited partnership.

This is a bit confusing and not abstract enough. It seems to imply that there is a corporate structure somewhere, that is, a particular legal entity organized as a master limited partnership, and that it is being exploited.

In other words, using the "tiger" example from John Lawler's link, we want to denote the entire species called "master limited partnership" rather than a particular member of the species. The indefinite article makes it look like we're talking about a member of the species.

Another corporate structure being exploited now more than ever is master limited partnerships.

This is less confusing and is even arguably correct, in terms of its meaning. However, the unbalanced grammatical number of the singular subject and plural predicate is somewhat awkward. If there were multiple structures being exploited, it would work: "Other corporate structures being exploited now more than ever include master limited partnerships and freeble glarb corporations."

  • Thank you. You have explained it very clearly. One question, about the generic use of nouns with the definite article, One of other commentators informed me that the use is pretty much restricted to animal, plant, and invention like as in "the lion, the baobab tree, and the typewriter." According to your explanation, the same use can be found in other cases too. A bit confused. Please explain~ Thank you in advance!
    – Huidong Im
    Sep 30, 2014 at 14:11
  • Also, if I say "The human brain consists of billions of cells", is the use of "the" also generic?
    – Huidong Im
    Sep 30, 2014 at 14:15
  • Also, in your comment, you said, " The indefinite article makes it look like we're talking about a member of the species." In this sentence, the use of "the" before "indefinite article" is also generic? I think it is, because "the" here does not denote a particular indefinite article among other indefinite articles. I think it denotes a genus of article, called "indefinite article" among all genera of article:definite, indefinite, zero.
    – Huidong Im
    Sep 30, 2014 at 14:20
  • @HuidongIm I am skeptical about the assertion that definite generic noun phrases are "pretty much restricted to animal, plant, and invention." But it is also difficult to refute that claim, since it is qualified by "pretty much." If legal forms of organization or anatomical organs can appear in definite generic noun phrases, are they counterexamples disproving the assertion, or are they exceptions covered under "pretty much"? Or can we say that legal forms are a type of "invention"? (Or were you thinking of another counterexample?)
    – phoog
    Feb 17, 2015 at 8:25
  • @HuidongIm Perhaps the distinction is concrete vs. abstract rather than "animal, vegetable, or invention", but I haven't thought that through. I wouldn't say, for example, "the philosophy is a popular subject." Your analysis of "the indefinite article..." makes perfect sense. However, I think I actually had in mind the specific instance of the word "a" in the hypothetical sentence, rather than speaking generically of indefinite articles.
    – phoog
    Feb 17, 2015 at 8:31

In this sentence "the master" has the same meaning as "the main" so "the" is obligatory here

  • However is the next sentence is like this "Last year, the oil and gas company Phillips 66 spun out its pipeline assets into a master limited partnership." I do not have any difficulties understanding "a" used in here. But, according to your explanation, shouldn't it be a "the" here too?
    – Huidong Im
    Sep 29, 2014 at 15:01
  • @HuidongIm this answer is incorrect. It assumes that "the master" is identifying a particular limited partnership that is somehow above the others.
    – phoog
    Sep 30, 2014 at 6:29

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