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I've been doing a research on articles, trying to create a set of reliable rules for my students and I've completed the major part of it, however, there still remain some inconsistencies with bare plural nouns (ofc they do) Here I want to talk solely about the plural nouns that are context-defined, implicitly defined, not the ones that are defined by adding words after the noun.

e.g.

  • I looked at the car, the tires were flat (implicitly defined).

  • I looked at the car, the tires that Jack gave me for my last birthday were flat (explicitly defined).

So, here are the sentences for the discussion:


I opened a book and started looking through the pages.

(Pages are expected to be present in a book - "the" is preferable.)

I opened an excel document and started looking through cells.

(Cells are expected in an excel file, but "zero" is preferable, for some reason.)

I opened youtube and started looking through videos.

(Videos are expected to be on youtube, but again I think "zero" is preferable, no idea why.)

I opened a girl's instagram page and started looking through the photos.

(Photos are also expected to be on a person's instagram page, and I think "the" is preferable here.)

I came to a rocky beach and started looking through the stones.

(Stones also expected on a rocky beach and I think "the" is preferable.)

Questions:

  1. What's the best choice of articles in these sentences? (Since I'm not a native speaker I can't be sure.)

  2. What patterns do you see in these examples? Suggest your ideas. Maybe it has to do with the perceived amount of an item? (maybe cells in a excel file are too many, or maybe they're a less obvious association and don't come to mind as easily when thinking about "an excel file".)

P.S. if you are going to provide examples, please avoid the examples with singular nouns and the ones with the noun explicitly defined by adding words, unless you're sure they are relevant to our discussion.

EDITED:

I was suggested that all the sentences should have "the" as the best choice of article.

I've remembered 3 other examples provided by a native speaker, in which he claimed "zero" is the preferable choice:

Could you please give your thoughts on the following cases:

  1. I went to Paris last year, I looked at _buildings, talked to _people, visited _museums

(buildings,people and museums are expected to be in Paris, should it be "the" or "zero"?) I believe if put "zero" we emphsasize the class/role of these nouns rather than the fact they were in Paris.

  1. The police entered the house and started searching _ rooms

(the rooms are expected in a building, but the native speaker suggested "zero", maybe to emphasize the police were searching "rooms" as opposed to "hallways", for example?

  1. I opened an excel file, and started filling in _ cells

(he suggested that "zero" is preferable, but maybe he meant it is just possible and not preferrable) Could you give your opinion on these examples?

1 Answer 1

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I believe that few other sentences here should also have "the", and other words.

Like:

I opened a book and started looking through the pages

The above sentence is correct; therefore, it shouldn't be modified.

I opened an excel document and started looking through its cells

Here, you need to specify (what)'s cells, I believe it should be its in this context, meaning the excel document's cells.

I opened YouTube and started looking through (some/the) videos

Here, you need to be using a an unspecific or general term (i.e. some), unless you're referring to specific videos on youtube, then a specific word should be used (i.e. the).

I opened a girl's Instagram page and started looking through her photos

Here, since you mentioned it's a girl, "her" would suit the best. "her photos" would specifically mean photos she posted on her Instagram page.

I came to a rocky beach and started looking through the stones

There aren't any issues with the sentence above, you use the to specify the stones on a specific rocky beach that you're on.


Edit:

If you only can use articles, use:

I opened a book and started looking through the pages

I opened an excel document and started looking through the cells

I opened YouTube and started looking through the videos

I opened a girl's Instagram page and started looking through the photos

I came to a rocky beach and started looking through the stones

And this is where we come across the understanding that the has to be used in this type of context.


The reason why I use the for all the sentences is because that the things in the above sentences are specific and not general.

As mentioned here, you shouldn't use the article the when you are mentioning specific things.

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  • What If we were allowed to only use articles and not other determiners like "her/its/some" etc. What would your choice be? Dec 25, 2022 at 9:52
  • @Mr.PastProgressive Edited my answer. Dec 25, 2022 at 9:56
  • @Mr.PastProgressive If my answer solves your problem, feel free to accept it :) Dec 25, 2022 at 9:58
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    Thank you! I've been given 2 examples by a native speaker recently. "I opened an excel file and started filling in _ cells" (he suggested "the" is not necesarry here) and "The police entered the house and started searching _ rooms" (again, he used "zero" here, altough "the rooms" are expected to be in a house). Can you please provide your opinion on these 2? Your answer is great, but I want to hear as many opinions as possible yet, the more opinions we'll gather - the better Dec 25, 2022 at 9:59
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    @Mr. Past Progressive. You asked for opinions. Mine as a native speaker is that all the examples you give are preferable with "the". Implicit in each case "is of the..." which is a specific reference (for example, the cells of the document, the rooms of the house.) The only sentence where the zero conditional is perhaps equally appropriate is the one about Paris and its buildings etc.
    – Shoe
    Dec 26, 2022 at 9:07

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