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My classmate wrote a text about zoos in general, and the word "zoos" in plural form is mentioned many times in it. Later in the text he uses singular form "zoo" two times with indefinite articles, and both times he still refers to an abstract zoo, not to specific one.

He wrote:

The place where animals can obtain shelter is a zoo.

You can take the kids to a zoo.

I'm having trouble in figuring out whether it is correct or not. I think that he should have used a definite article the second time, because he already mentioned a singular abstract zoo, but he argues that he refers to "two different singular abstract zoos".

So which article should be used in a second sentence?

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Sadly, 'rules' that people devise to 'make article use simper' are almost always too broad-brush.

I'd prefer a more realistic first sentence:

A zoo is 'an establishment which maintains a collection of wild animals, typically in a park or gardens, for study, conservation, or display to the public'.

{ODO}

'You can take the kids to a zoo.'

then works because you're still referring to an abstract example.

'You can take your kids to the zoo.'

also works, but not because 'zoo' has already been mentioned in the first sentence here: it is equally acceptable to use the definite article in expressions like

'We're going to the seaside.'

'We went to the opera three times last year'

'We often go to the cinema'

where (1) this is the first mention of 'seaside', 'opera' etc

(2) the actual seaside resort / venue, opera house or cinema is not specified (and there may in fact be more than one involved). Note that 'You can take the kids ...' displays a usage somewhere between this usage and a specifying one (your kids).

  • So in other words when we refer to abstract objects, it is acceptible to not use definite articles at all, but we still can use them if we are sure that the reader knows what we're talking about. Right? – UchuuStranger Aug 13 '15 at 10:20
  • It's far more complex. You wouldn't say 'We often go to the lake' (unless there was one obvious candidate) but you might well say 'We often go to the sea'. Collins Cobuild have a book dealing with article usage. It's over 100 pages long (and doubtless doesn't cover the whole subject). – Edwin Ashworth Aug 13 '15 at 10:32

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