I know in English you can use the definite article with geographical expressiones such as the sea, the country, the land, the city, the beach, the seaside, but what about other geographical terms? Can I use them as generic terms to mean "the idea of ..."? I don't mean any particular place.

The jellyfish lives in the water.

(= I don't mean any particular water. I mean the idea or concept of water: an area of water, especially a lake, river, sea or ocean)

The grasshopper lives in the meadow.

( = I don't mean any meadow. I mean the idea or concept of meadow: a field covered in grass, used especially for hay)

The lion is the king of the jungle.

Is there a cat that lives in the desert?

There is only one type of cat that lives in the desert. The sand cat (Felis margarita) is the only member of the cat family tied directly to sand regions. Found in North Africa, the Arabian peninsula and the deserts of Turkmenistan in Uzbekistan, the sand cat has adapted to extremely arid desert areas.

Plants live in many different environments. Some live in the ocean, some live in the desert. Plants are very important to everyone on the planet.

Hope shows up in several places in this very dark world—such as in the incorruptible goodness of Katniss' sister, Primrose. It shows in Katniss' rare sacrifice for her sister, when she volunteers to take Prim's place in the Games. It lives in the meadow and the woods, where the natural world exists mostly unmolested by the powerful central government.

In Africa, the rhino lives in the Savannah among zebras, lions, giraffes, elephants, hippos, and other animals

This is what books say, but obviously they can't cover all cases:

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2 Answers 2


Wow, I thought this would be easy, but it's actually a little tricky. I think the answer to your question is "It's all over the map."

Consider your first sentence, "The jellyfish lives in the water."

It would sound much better if you said "The jellyfish lives in the sea." (Since there are many different kinds of jellyfish, it might sound even better like this: "Jellyfish live in the sea."

But if you just want to emphasize that jellyfish live in water, rather than on land, you would say "Jellyfish live in water." (You could also say "Jellyfish are aquatic.")

Your next sentence, "The grasshopper lives in the meadow," is more confusing.

Actually, grasshoppers live in a wide variety of habitats. But let's pretend they occur primarily in meadows. You would probably want to say "The grasshopper lives in meadows," or "Grasshoppers live in meadows." You could also say "Grasshoppers inhabit meadows" or "Grasshoppers occur in meadows."

Unfortunately, I haven't given you a really good rule of thumb. Unless someone else can suggest some rules, you'll just have to take it on a case by case basis. In other words, each sentence may be unique.

  • Well, that's what I've been doing with those geographical words, and other similar ones. I have never found those in any book on the English articles or grammar. Okay, let's try a different sentence: "The meadow is a great habitat for many animals and plants." Will the definite article refer ONLY to a specific meadow? Or can it be used as a general term?
    – Fae
    Feb 2, 2016 at 0:00
  • My Google hits seem to confirm this theory, but there are just way too many examples where the definite article is used to refer to an already described meadow/water/woods/etc., so I can only browse a few sites.
    – Fae
    Feb 2, 2016 at 0:04
  • Such a simple question when you read the title but it owned me bad. There are too many things that we need to cover for this. Ain't nobody got time for that.jpg. The meadow becomes somewhere specific but if we can use it to mean the meadow in general too. I think we get the meaning from context. Good question.
    – Grizzly
    Feb 2, 2016 at 0:24
  • The term meadow usually refers to a specific area, or meadow. I would say "Meadow mice live in meadows," NOT "Meadow mice live in the meadow." Similarly, "Deer live in forests" is better than "deer live in the forest," though "the forest" doesn't sound as bad as "the meadow" (to me, at least). Feb 2, 2016 at 1:08
  • Yeah, but then again: if you can make "in the forest", this suggests that any area/habitat can follow the same pattern. This is what I've just found on Wikipedia: "As extensive farming like grazing is diminishing in some parts of the world, >>the<< meadow is endangered as a habitat. Some scientific projects are therefore experimenting with reintroduction of natural grazers."
    – Fae
    Feb 2, 2016 at 1:13

"Can I use them as generic terms to mean 'the idea of ...'?"

If you really mean to speak conceptually, as in poetry or very abstract terms of science, yes you could say "The jellyfish lives in the water" or "The grasshopper lives in the meadow."

It will read better though to remove one of the articles from the sentence and change the verb to match. So either "Jellyfish live in the water" or "The jellyfish lives in water."

Similarly but a little different one could say "Grasshoppers live in the meadow" or "The grasshopper lives in meadows" or perhaps just "The grasshopper lives in a meadow." Depends on what you are trying to say.

Hope this helps!

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