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Why is it necessary to include determiners like "your" or "my" in sentences with enough context to omit them?

  1. "Bob, eat your breakfast."
  2. "How do you like your eggs?"
  3. "I got my results back."
  4. "I'm driving in my car."

I'm well aware that these words just fit there, but it seems to me like they're completely redundant (probably because the equivalent in my native language sounds completely off).

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  • I guess in your native language you use a determinative article in place of the determiners.
    – user 66974
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 19:21
  • They are not determiners, but genitive case pronouns.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 19:24
  • Eat breakfast means something else—it's a general instruction to eat breakfast every day, rather than eating the breakfast that is sitting in front of you. And eat the breakfast (which we wouldn't say) is just as long as eat your breakfast, so why not use your instead of the? Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 19:27
  • But you're right—for 4, leaving out the determiner doesn't give you an alternate meaning, just an ungrammatical sentence. Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 19:30
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    @jacek11: It's not ungrammatical. "Bob, eat your breakfast" means something slightly different than "Bob, eat breakfast". If Bob is lying in bed reading, and he'll be late for work if he doesn't get up and start getting ready, you might say "Bob, eat breakfast." If he is letting the scrambled eggs and bacon that you got up early to make for him get cold, you might say "Bob, eat your breakfast". Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 21:23

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In all of those sentences, removing the word changes the meaning. In English there is a significant grammatical difference between something in general and one specific example of a thing; some languages might let the difference be understood from context, but English doesn't.

  1. Bob, eat breakfast.

Like a comment says, this could mean eat breakfast every day. It could also mean, go make yourself breakfast and eat it (though "Bob, go eat some breakfast" would be more natural even then).

Eat your breakfast suggest that there is a specific instance of breakfast that is available to be eaten, as if Bob is at the table with a serving of breakfast in front of them but isn't eating it.

  1. How do you like eggs?

This sounds like someone is proposing breakfast and has several options available, and asks whether you want eggs. The kind of answer I'd expect to that question is "That would be lovely" or "I'd rather have cereal, thanks". Again, the your suggests a specific instance of eggs being discussed, in this case, the eggs that we've already established I'm making you, or that you're eating (depending on whether the expected answer is "scrambled please", or "I'm loving them!").

  1. I got results back

I can't really imagine a circumstance where you'd say this. "I got results" could be said if, say, you were doing an experiment and yay, it yielded results! Maybe, like, "Hey this 'calculator' thing is nifty! I clicked on these buttons to write an equation, then I pressed the 'equals' button, and I got results back!". This is again a case where my specifies which results we're talking about, which will typically be the results of some test that was applied to you personally.

  1. I am driving in car

That would never be said, because unlike all the other cases "car" is singular and countable. If you'd said "I am driving in a car", again it suggests a different meaning, where the car isn't necessarily yours. To me it really emphasizes a kind of surprise, because normally you'd either just say you're driving (the car itself is redundant really), or specify the car you're driving in (which justifies mentioning the car). It's not easy to find a scenario where you need to emphasize that it's a car you're driving, but which specific car it is is irrelevant. Like "OMG I just woke up after taking Ambien and here I am driving in a car!".

In all of these cases you could argue that the meanings I gave for the sentences without the determiners are things that rarely come up, and when they do they're rarely said in those words, so that justifies considering the "your"s redundant in the sentences with them, seeing as those are very common phrases where context makes the meaning obvious. But it is precisely a sign that the determiners aren't redundant, that the English-speaking brain will automatically look for a different meaning when they aren't there.

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  • Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your answer is exactly what I was looking for. New questions arose as I was reading it but they were answered immediately. I've learned something today because of you, Rozenn Keribin!
    – kronkiel
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 22:20
  • Merely removing the pronoun would indeed change the meaning in the ways that are outlined here. That, however, still doesn't explain why we use a possessive pronoun rather than a definite article. If we said 'Bob, eat the breakfast', it would also be clear that we are referring to the specific breakfast sitting on the table, rather than breakfast-in-general. If Bob were trying to eat somebody else's breakfast, then your would serve a purpose, but such scenarios are rare.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 16:54
  • @jsw29: unlike French (the only other language I know), English tends to use a possessive pronoun rather than the definite article when both choices would be equally good. Rather than say fermez les yeux, we say close your eyes. Why not? your and the are equally short. Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 18:20

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