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The old woman reduced the self-esteem of the speaker.

My question is why it is the self-esteem.

marked as duplicate by lbf, 9fyj'j55-8ujfr5yhjky-'tt6yhkjj, Andrew Leach Sep 16 '18 at 7:13

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  • There is a further question here. I would have written The old woman reduced the speaker's self-esteem because I would want to define and draw attention to the visible speaker, not to the internal and invisible 'self-esteem'. – Nigel J Sep 15 '18 at 12:01
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    Because self-esteem is not a plural noun, the rules of English syntax require an article in that position. If you wrote 'a self esteem' it would sound like the speaker had several 'self esteems', which doesn't work, so you write 'the self esteem'. (Similarly for a genetically normal cat you wouldn't say 'he scratched a head of the cat'.) The last commenter's suggestion is better stylistically. – S Conroy Sep 15 '18 at 14:47
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Because it is known from context which person is being talked about. that`s what matters in this case. We are talking about the specific person the old woman is referring to.
For example - " Battered women are often depressed, anxiety-ridden, suffering from low self-esteem or displaying a countenance of helplessness. " ( in general, it is a general idea ) One more example - " Abusers are often suspicious and jealous, suffer from low self-esteem and need to assert themselves. " but - " The school principal destroyed the self-esteem of the pupil by insulting him/her in front of everyone ". ( we know who the pupil is )

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    Because that's how the English language works! Self-esteem is a quality, not an object. so we wouldn't say 'a self-esteem in the same way that we could say 'She picked up a handkerchief belonging to the speaker'. – Kate Bunting Sep 15 '18 at 8:13
  • @KateBunting I think your comment is beside the point. Int his particular case, the definite article " the " is used because, it is clear from context who exactly the speak is. – Beqa Sep 15 '18 at 8:25
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    Beqa, the system has flagged your answer for closure as "low-quality because of its length and content." An answer is expected to be authoritative, detailed, and explain why it is correct, whereas your answer currently reads as a personal opinion without anything to support it. You can avoid closure by adding more detail using the edit link. – Chappo Sep 15 '18 at 11:09
  • @Chappo I explained in my original comment why the definite article " the " is used in OP`s sentence. I reiterate, when it is clear from context which person or thing is being mentioned, even if we are using it for the first time, we ought to use the definite article " the ". As for your reply, it adds absolutely no value to this discussion. In your place, instead of typing this tirade, uttered with a sarcastic undertone, I would come up with something worthy of attention. – Beqa Sep 15 '18 at 11:52
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    I don't think this answer is adequate. You say he has self-esteem, not he has a self-esteem or he has the self-esteem. So why do you need to use an article in the OP's sentence? – Peter Shor Sep 15 '18 at 18:43
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Other users have contributed various comments that collectively provide a useful answer to why the definite article is used here:

Because self-esteem is not a plural noun, the rules of English syntax require an article in that position. If you wrote 'a self esteem' it would sound like the speaker had several 'self esteems', which doesn't work, so you write 'the self esteem'. (Similarly for a genetically normal cat you wouldn't say 'he scratched a head of the cat'.).
[S Conroy]

and

I would have written The old woman reduced the speaker's self-esteem because I would want to define and draw attention to the visible speaker, not to the internal and invisible 'self-esteem'.
[Nigel J]

Another answer to this question argues that the definite article is used "Because it is known from context which person is being talked about". I think it's important to provide a critique of this reasoning. In fact, the identity of the speaker isn't relevant to a decision on whether a determiner should be used. This can be demonstrated with a slight change to the original sentence so that it's not known which person is being talked about:

The old woman's laugh would have reduced the self-esteem of any speaker.

In an explanatory comment to that answer, a link to some useful online guidance on the use of articles is provided. To summarise the options given in that article, and how they apply in this particular circumstance:

  1. The indefinite article (a, an) is used when the noun doesn't refer to something specific.
    However, our sentence refers to the specific self-esteem of a particular person, so we would not use "a".
  2. no article (zero article) is used when talking about things generally [example: not "the things generally" in this sentence!] or when talking about all instances of something [example: "articles go before nouns"].
    However, neither of these conditions apply to our sentence: we're not talking about general self-esteem but about the self-esteem of particular individual, and the individual only has one self-esteem rather than multiple instances of it.

Conclusion
Since we would not use the indefinite article, and the "no article" approach isn't appropriate in this instance, logically the only option remaining is the standard usage of the definite article, i.e. to precede the noun self-esteem with the determiner the in the given sentence.

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