Listening to an episode of a tech podcast with very tech-literate persons talking, I noticed them saying things like "I use the Tweetbot", for the iPhone app "Tweetbot", or "building the Instapaper", for the iPhone app "Instapaper". They don't use the definite article all of the time: they mostly talk about apps without "the".

As a non-native English speaker, this sounds wrong to me. I interpret it as a parody of someone not very familiar with technology, but I'm not sure my intuitions are accurate.

I certainly see how a tech-literate person would say "I used the calendar" for the iPhone app "Calendar", but with a less generic name like "Tweetbot" or "Instapaper", I get the impression they're aiming to be funny. Or that they were at one point aiming to be funny, and now they do it by rote, as with "funny" expressions like "What can I do you for?"

Would you say I have this right, or does "the Instapaper" not suggest a non-technical speaker to you? I'm guessing users of this site are technical enough to tell.


3 Answers 3


I think it's contextual. For example:

When I get on the Internet, I often visit the EL&U board.

I think removing the articles in that sentence would make me sound more like a non-native speaker.

Still, you have a point. I probably wouldn't say:

I used the Twitter yesterday, after I logged off of the Facebook.

  • 3
    I don't think it's that contextual - the reason you use an article before EL&U in that example is because the head of the noun phrase is board, not EL&U, and you are narrowing down which board you are speaking about. Remove board and you can't use the - you have to say "I often visit EL&U". Conversely, you would say "I read the Twitter feed" and "I updated the Facebook profile."
    – alcas
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 1:45
  • @alcas: You bring up an excellent point. I'd still call that "contextual," but I'd agree with you: sometimes the pivotal aspect of the context is whether the product is being used as a destination noun (skip the article) or an adjective (include it). E.g., "I logged onto Hotmail; I created a Hotmail account". But I also think there may be some exceptions to that general rule; for example, for a GPS app, one might say: "I think we're lost, turn on the TomTom" (article included), and that doesn't sound non-technical to me.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 14:28
  • Huh. I'd only say that if it was a physical GPS; if it's an iPhone app, I'd say "turn on TomTom". But your point is well taken - you DO have to know the specific item in question to be sure about the article usage.
    – alcas
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 22:20

I think you're referring to one particular point when, in the podcast, one person said:

"Just for the sake of having some kind of a contrivance, can we act like I don’t know that much stuff about computers?"

But this statement is not connected at all to the fact that they sometimes use Proper Nouns of applications or services together with the definite Article "The." Like you said yourself, most of the time they used the names without "The."

One example about Instapaper also goes something like: "... you're sitting there while waiting for the Instapaper to get made..."

But that most probably just means the Instapaper article.

Finally, I think if they were indeed parodying non-technical people, they would still keep it pretty perceptible that they were doing exactly that.

  • I didn't even think about that statement, but you're right, they did say that. And I suppose they could have been going for a metaphorical "the Instapaper" as you suggest. I think the Tweetbot example was something like "I love the Tweetbot", which I suppose could have been intended to mean the character that is probably in the design somewhere, though if I remember it correctly, it did sound like it was referring to the app.
    – Henrik N
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 20:26

In current usage, names of websites, apps, programs and so on almost never bear the definite article (Pandora, not the Pandora, etc). Although I don't have a source to back this up, I think this paradigm came with the rise of "Web 2.0" phenomena like social media and smartphone app stores - famously exemplified by the scene in the film "The Social Network" in which Sean Parker advises Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg "Drop the the. Just Facebook. It's cleaner." As you correctly guess, referring to "the Facebook" or similar these days signifies tech-illiteracy.

But it's worth noting that for many websites/apps, there is a distinction: the name with no article refers to the app itself, while the name with an article refers to a specific instance of the content within the app. For instance, in a sentence like

I'm reading the Tumblr my friend recommended.

the meaning is that my friend recommended a specific page on Tumblr, not the website as a whole. This means that both of the following are plausible sentences

a. I love Tumblr.

b. I love the Tumblr.

but a) means that you love the website Tumblr as a whole, whereas b) means that you love a specific page on Tumblr whose identity is clear from the discourse context ("Hey, I checked out the links you emailed me - love the Tumblr!")

Therefore, as for your example - while I'm not familiar with Instapaper or Tweetbot, I would say that the speakers in the podcast are probably referring to something within the apps rather than the apps as a whole. Though they could always just be, as you suggest, joking around :)

  • Personally, I'd drop the capital when using the word as a common noun. "I just read a tumblr."
    – Carl Smith
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 21:31

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