There is a set of sentences:

"I love pictures on my phone. The pictures are nice."

In a thread

I love pictures on my phone - what does zero article imply?

I was told that the meaning of the first sentence is more likely that I like having photos on my phone.

Buy can I use this set of sentences, when I mention those pictures for the first time in the first sentence, talking about real pictures, with no article, assuming the listener doesn't know that I have any pictures on my phone, and then say "the pictures"? Is it appropriate then?


  • Your two sentences are not incompatible. "I like having photos on my phone. The photos I have on my phone are nice." One is general; the other narrows down to a particular set of pictures -- those on your phone. You can omit on my phone in the second sentence because that's understood. – Andrew Leach Nov 11 '14 at 11:48

It seems highly awkward and clumsy to me; I would say no, you cannot.

The definite article has many uses. You seem to be wanting to leave it out here because of the half-truth often stated that a definite article requires that the noun phrase in question be already within the scope of the discourse. This is not entirely false, but it only a part of the whole truth.

Another function of the definite article is to signal that the noun phrase is somehow modified or more narrowly defined than the bare noun (phrase) itself.

Thus, for example, it is perfectly natural that the second paragraph in this answer starts with “the definite article” since the definite article has already been introduced in your question and is within the scope of our current (virtual) discourse. In the next line, it is also natural that I use “the noun phrase” because it is modified and narrowed down by “in question”. If this narrowing down had not been present, the sentence would have been awkward:

… a definite article requires that the noun phrase be already within the scope of the discourse

– would not work in this context since “noun phrase” is not something that exists in the scope of the discourse.

In your example, “on my phone” narrows down the head of the noun phrase, “pictures”, which means that it is perfectly natural to use a definite article. You are in fact referring to a specific, definite subset of pictures, namely the ones that are located on your phone.

Leaving out the definite article is fine in the sentence itself—as stated in the thread you link to, it simply forces “pictures” to refer to an indefinite, undefine set of pictures, which is then taken to be just any possible pictures and ends up meaning that you love having pictures on your phone. An undefined, vague notion of “pictures” is introduced into the scope of the discourse, but it remains to some degree ‘unreferenced’, as it were.

There is nothing wrong with this, but since the next sentence uses “the pictures” without narrowing down the set of pictures, this instance of the definite article does require that a specific, defined set of “pictures” be available in the discourse—and no such set is found. Only a looser, undefined set of “pictures” is found, which is not enough.

  • Well, I see, thanks for the great explanation! I asked one native speaker and he told me that when I say "I used cars of my friend", I should omit "the" before cars, if the listener doesn't know that my friend has cars. Is it just another case? Not just like with "I like + bare infinitive"? – Nikolay Komolov Nov 11 '14 at 13:57
  • No, your friend is just simply wrong. “I used cars of my friend” is completely ungrammatical. I cannot imagine any native speaker of English saying that. First of all, a Saxon genitive would be expected (which does not permit a definite article on the thing possessed): “I used my friend’s car”. But even if an of genitive were used, a definite article would be mandatory: “I used the car(s) of my friend”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 11 '14 at 14:01
  • Thanks? But can I say "I used a car my friend has" or "I used a car of my friend"? Can it be used for the first mention? Can it be used, if a friend has several cars so it is unclear for the listener which one I used? Thanks. – Nikolay Komolov Nov 11 '14 at 14:24
  • You can say, “I used a car my friend has/owns”. You can also say, “I used one of my friend’s cars” or (less idiomatically) “I used a car of my friend’s”, but ‘a car of my friend’ does not work. We generally do not use the of possessive with concrete people when the possession is one of literal ownership. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 11 '14 at 14:27
  • Thanks. But if the was one car, I could say "The car of my friend" for the first mention? You say that of-genetive is not used in this manner with literal ownership, but I got the sentence I wrote here from your answer which is before yours last one... So why here we use it that way? Is it because "car" is singular" there? – Nikolay Komolov Nov 11 '14 at 14:33

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