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If you want to describe something in general, which article do you use "a ―"(singular), "―s"(plural) or "the ―"?
For example:

A dog is obedient to its owner.

Dogs are obedient to their owner.

The dog is obedient to its owner.

I think "dogs" is better than "a dog" because there are many obedient dogs in the world, but I don't know whether "the dog" is correct or not in this case.

But I've seen this sentence:

The phonograph was invented in 1887 by Edison.

I think "phonographs" is also correct, but I'm not sure.

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Drew, Lawrence, Helmar, tchrist Sep 28 '16 at 12:03

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Each of these usages are useful, but they convey different ideas, and different voices, depending on context. If one were to say "The dog is obedient to its owner" as a general statement about dogs, I would read it as imitating a certain speaking style which I associate with documentary films from the 1950s.

"The phonograph was invented by Edison" is reasonably close to "Phonographs were invented by Edison", though the latter could be taken, in rare confusion, to mean that Edison invented more than one phonograph.

A couple of citations:

"The topic will include the history of these batteries which were invented by Edison in 1902." -- http://www.ideawave.ca/the-conference/ideal-solar-storage-batteries-invented-in-1902-by-edison-are-rediscovered/

"MOTION PICTURE MACHINES were invented by Edison in 1889." -- https://books.google.com/books?id=UulBAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA391&lpg=PA391&dq=%22were+invented+by+Edison%22&source=bl&ots=fbL5NBpDjN&sig=XsxaaoVjYM4eJo7qArkzHQg2lRQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwja8ratrLHPAhWMPD4KHRmNDvEQ6AEIWTAI#v=onepage&q=%22were%20invented%20by%20Edison%22&f=false

  • I would venture to say that the phonograph was invented isn't close to "phonographs were invented* because native speakers wouldn't say the latter. Do you have any evidence for this locution? A brief look at the Ngram viewer leads me to believe that were invented is use for different inventions as in Great Inventions and How They Were Invented. – deadrat Sep 28 '16 at 1:06
  • It's a casual usage. Writers would probably avoid it for that reason, unless they were writing dialog. – Hack Saw Sep 28 '16 at 5:31
  • What's a casual usage? Slang? Do you have any evidence that the plural is used in this way with invent? – deadrat Sep 28 '16 at 5:35
  • "The topic will include the history of these batteries which were invented by Edison in 1902." -- ideawave.ca/the-conference/… – Hack Saw Sep 28 '16 at 5:42
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    Good catch, but I'd say that was a standard usage. I stand corrected, and I think you should put the cite in your answer. – deadrat Sep 28 '16 at 5:49
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I say that "a dog is obedient to its owner" is the best way to describe the relationship in general. Mostly because it uses the fewest letters.

  • Interesting logic. – Grizzly Sep 28 '16 at 0:59
  • Certainly wouldn't always apply to the spoken word. – deadrat Sep 28 '16 at 1:02

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