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"Bob decides to do his speech about the use of narcotics by teenagers."

Does this mean that Bob only has a single speech? Or does it mean that Bob has more than one speech, but only one of them is about narcotic use in teens? Or does it just mean that Bob has an unknown quantity of speeches, and that this speech is his and not written by someone else?

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  • "Speech" is a countable noun when it means "a formal address". You can't expect him to give "multiple" speeches reading the sentence. Without any context, you never know how many speeches he prepared.
    – user140086
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 14:35
  • Bob decides to do [his speech about the use of narcotics by teenagers] That's the answer given by @Centaueus. This is Rathony' version: Bob decides to do his speech about [the use of narcotics by teenagers]].
    – Hugh
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 16:04

2 Answers 2

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As a matter of fact, it's just possible that Bob has prepared a speech about several different subjects and, this time, he has decided to make his speech about narcotics.

"Bob decides to make his speech about the use of narcotics by teenagers"

But he might have prepared one about

  • the use of narcotics by the middle-aged.
  • the use of alcohol by children.
  • same-sex marriage.
  • anything.
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The possessive determiners in English are usually definite: the speech would correspond to his speech and a speech would correspond to one of his speeches. So the discussion is referencing a particular speech by Bob. It's possible that Bob only has one speech, or maybe he has several speeches ready, but is deciding which one to give at this particular venue.

There are numerous exceptions to this rule about definite possessive determiners, including body parts and relatives: if you say my arm or my brother, it doesn't mean you have only one arm or only one brother.

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  • I suppose that pragmatics should be mentioned; it's the speech about the use of narcotics by teenagers that the commentator is aware of: there may be others even in this subcategory (speeches about the use of narcotics by teenagers in Bob's repertoire). Commented Jun 12 at 15:23

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