They ran to the door of the cellar, but Toto was afraid, and he ran under the bed.
— Chapter 1 of The Wizard of Oz(Oxford Bookworms Library Stage 1)

In this book, There is no bed that has been mentioned. And I don't know anything about the bed. But as you can see, the definite article "the"is used in front of the word "bed".

To tell the truth, I have questioned about this topic here. People who gave me answers wrote that the definite article "the" implies that there is only one.

There were four walls, a floor and a roof, which made one room;and this room contained a rusty looking cooking stove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner.
— Chapter 1 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 100th Anniversary Edition

In another edition, The inside of the house is described.
There are two beds.

Could you explain me why the definite article is used?

  • 5
    Partly because "under the bed" is idiomatic.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 24, 2015 at 12:11
  • I don't know if the book explicitly describes the outside of the house, but quite possibly it has a front garden and a back garden. And it would have been possible for Toto to have run into the garden without it being specified which (front or back) garden it was (assuming it didn't really matter in the context of the narrative). I see nothing particularly odd about the cited usage, but I must admit the would strike me as a bit weird if the room had been, say, a dormitory containing a dozen (undifferentiated) beds. Commented May 24, 2015 at 13:23
  • You are to imagine a scene in which there is just a single bed, as background for the action. That is what is meant.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented May 24, 2015 at 15:35
  • Look at it this way: While Baum was no English professor, he was an excellent story teller. Are you saying he should adhere to some obscure rule of English construction instead of laying out the story in a way that seems best to him??
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 22:46

6 Answers 6


As mentioned in the comments "run under the bed" is idiomatic. This is actually quite common in English, and the object used with the definite articles in these idioms is usually a particular one, but not necessary particularly identified. Some more examples:

"I saw a car parked on the shoulder." Which shoulder?

"I heard someone walking up the stairs." Which stairs?

"She took my phone and threw it out the window." Which window?

"He was just standing in the corner, not mingling much." Which corner?

"I looked her in the eye, and lied through my teeth." Which eye?

  • 1
    Precisely!! The definite/indefinite "rule" is only a (rather vague) guideline for situations where you don't really know which to use and have no preference for which "sounds better" or is more idiomatic. It is not a law to be used to posthumously arrest authors and compel them to "correct" their work.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 16:50

You cling to a school rule that you say "a man" when the man is unknown and that you say "the man" when the man is known because he was mentioned before. But this is only one part of the reality. If you speak of a kitchen you can say the table, the cupboard, the kitchen sink. These words must not be introduced before as everybody knows there is a table, a cupboard and a kitchen sink in a kitchen. You should read The Wolf and the Seven Kids (One hid in the bed, one in the cupboard, and the last one in the grandfather clock.) All these things haven't been mentioned before. Nevertheless the definite article is used because these things are the normal things to be found in a home.

  • Unfortunately, none of these details deal with the issue that multiple beds are specifically mentioned. "The" bed is still unknown when there are two beds.
    – Cord
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 9:33

The second extract from the book, above, states that there are 'three or four chairs'. In this instance, the author is being deliberately vague.

The complete first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Chicago, G.M. Hill: 1900), is available to read at: WofOz

Some brief observations from Chapter 1:

  • prior to the cyclone, virtually everything, both indoors and out, is 'gray' and without substance, or life force. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are also 'gray' and clearly disengaged from Dorothy.

  • no physical description of Dorothy is given, yet a vivid picture is painted of her through her relationship with Toto: 'It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her other surroundings. Toto was not gray; he was a little black dog with long, silky hair and small, black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose. Toto played all day long, and Dorothy played with him, and loved him dearly' (p.13).

  • when the cyclone struck and Toto hid under 'the' bed, Dorothy straightaway went to find him. In contrast, Aunt Em, 'badly frightened', left Dorothy and descended into the cyclone cellar for protection.

  • Dorothy finds Toto and starts to follow her aunt, when the cyclone hits the house. It starts to spin round and rises slowly through the air: 'The north and South winds met where the house stood, and made it the exact centre of the cyclone', (p14). Dorothy and Toto, still inside the house, are carried with it, up into the air. The author is telling us that they are now central to the storyline.

  • the two were carried along by the cyclone for many hours. Dorothy's fear gradually subsided and 'she resolved to wait calmly and see what the future would bring. At last, she crawled over the swaying floor to her bed, and lay down upon it; and Toto followed and lay down beside her', (pp15-16).

In conclusion, I believe that author was purposefully unclear over which bed Toto ran under, when the cyclone struck. However, he makes it clear to us by the end of Chapter 1, that they are together in Dorothy's own bed and awaiting for their story to unfold.

  • So, would you call this a question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or how many angels can dance on the head of the pin?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 22:44
  • Basically, yes, but it was a good excuse for me to read the book, so thought I'd make the most of it. I want a dog like Toto, so I can play all day long! Commented May 26, 2015 at 23:01

In sum, it more important to the author to rely on the collocation the bed to describe Toto's action than it is to make sure you know which bed he is referring to.

Use of the definite article usually means that the author assumes you can readily identify which bed he is talking about. That is what definite references such as the bed mean. Whether the author's assumption is correct or not is immaterial to the issue.

It is also true that the bed is a common collocation. But, still, the author could have said a bed or one of the beds. Since he did not, the author is using the collocation without telling you which of the two beds that he is referring to, which is the author's prerogative.

It could be the case that Toto usually runs under only one of the two beds. This could be why the author uses the bed. If this is the case, then the author expects you to know that. (Note: this expectation may be wrong.) If it is not the case, then the author simply does not deem it important to specify which of the two beds he means.


Unless a particular bed was mentioned between Baum's description of the room and the time Toto ran under one, it is likely just a mistake on the part of the author. There are dozens of reasons to use the definite article even when something seems indefinite, but this is not one of those cases. The most likely scenario is that the author believed that there was only one bed that Toto could hide under (Dorothy's).

Here's (I hope) a complete list of times that the definite article is used even though the object seems indefinite:

  1. The object was previously mentioned.

    Henry and Em had a table, three chairs, and a bed. Toto ran under the bed.

  2. A second mention is actually a synonym.

    Henry and Em had a table and a sofa. Toto ran under the couch.

  3. Shared knowledge of the situation.

    All of Henry and Em's furniture was in one room. Toto ran under the bed. (The bed was never mentioned, but we assume they had a bed.)

  4. The indefinite object is unique in existence.

    Toto ran under one bed, hiding from the sun.

  5. A superlative identifies the object.

    Toto ran under the biggest bed.

  6. The object is further modified.

    Toto ran under the bed with Dorothy's dolls under it.

  7. Generic nationalities/other generalities often are referred to with a definite article. Of course, they can still be handled many other ways too.

    Dogs often hide under the bed.
    Dogs often hide under beds.
    Dogs often hide under a bed.

There are other times where the definite article is used to refer to something that might seem like an indefinite item, but is actually a unique or well-known single entity.


I think it's a matter of focus. Imagine you're watching a film in which the camera follows Toto running. It closes in on him, he almost fills the screen, and then he disappears under... well, you can only see one bed at this point... the bed. At this moment the rest of the room has been forgotten.

It's a little dramatic device, making an image specific, more vivid, and drawing us into the event. "A bed", while entirely possible, assumes a wider angle of view, in which Toto is merely a part of the whole. It's a cinematic technique, but probably much older than film.

I think.

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