Dalinar charged through the smoke, trusting in his padded armor and thick boots to protect him.

In that passage, there was no mention of smoke before. It was introduced in this line only but it was written before that it was a burning field where the action was happening. My question is, why 'the' is used before smoke?

  • In the same way, I daily take a walk in "the fresh air". However, I believe the earlier mention of burning triggers the definite article here. I am sometimes obliged to drive in fog (no article). But if I've previously heard on the radio that it is foggy this morning, I might phone my colleague and say "I may be late, the fog is quite thick". But if I think he doesn't know about the weather condition, I'd probably say something like "I'm in fog at the moment".
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 8:19
  • 1
    @WS2 Like 'at the seaside', 'in the fresh air' is far less directly referential than << The Elbonians set fire to the field of mazel to flush them out. Darlain charged through the smoke ... >>. This needs some degree of prior reference in the immediately preceding text. The word 'resulting' (better omitted for reasons of style) is recoverable. 'The fresh air', 'the seaside', 'the countryside' ... can be used as stand-alones. Otherwise, I'm with your explanation. Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 9:59
  • 8
    The smoke was indirectly introduced via mention of fire. It's like mentioning fire, and then saying that Dalinar was sweating from the heat.
    – Misha R
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 15:52
  • 1
    @MishaRosnach it seems you are in the right. Why not turning your comment into an answer?
    – fralau
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 5:58

2 Answers 2


The smoke, is a specific area of smoke, defined by the 'the'. It is not a generic idea of smoke or an insignificant whisp of smoke that doesn't deserve the indefinite article, being so brief in its passing.

It is, in the example 'the smoke from the burning field' (implied).

It is smoke that is important enough to become an entity of its own, important enough to acquire a 'the' that makes it a significant player in the sentence, having the importance of an 'it', because it is not 'generic'.

If it was a mere concept of 'smoke', or was a short-lived momentary puff of smoke, then it wouldn't have been around long enough to have earned the indefinite article: 'the'.

If it was a generic bit of smoke, that could be located anywhere, it won't deserve a 'the' either. But if the smoke has cachet - a style of its own, a particular location or way of swirling evocatively, or does something – makes an action of its own – then it may acquire a 'the' of its own.

It acquires 'the' if we already know of it and/or spoke of it – 'the red smoke over there', 'the foggy patch just before Shoreditch', because then it is not generic.

Generic uses – without 'the':

  • smoke swirled in the hollow

  • red smoke puffed around our ankles, as we danced the tango

  • the motorway was thick with smoke

Specific uses – with 'the':

  • the smoke in the hollow swirled spookily, as it had the other day

  • the red smoke swirling round our ankles stained our socks pink

  • the smoke at junction 4 of the M6 motorway caused delays

  • "If it was a generic bit of smoke, that could be located anywhere, it won't deserve a 'the' (...) It is, in the example 'the smoke from the burning field' (implied)" __ solid answer and I upvote! Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 15:40
  • You are most welcome @Jelila! Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 21:36
  • 😘🦋🧝🏼‍♀️🐬💞
    – Jelila
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 21:38

Using "the" puts you in Dalinar's shoes, so it helps you to identify with him. If a writer is describing a scene, he can assert that there is smoke there, but if you're Dalinar himself, you're not describing the scene -- you're experiencing it, so you'd refer to the smoke you see around you with "the".

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