A student of mine came across a website titled "Music for the Mind" and asked why we use a definite article. We are not talking about a specific mind. We also use definite articles to talk about "The heart," "The soul".

closed as general reference by Robusto, tchrist, Mitch, J.R., JSBձոգչ Nov 27 '12 at 16:00

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Did you try a dictionary? This entry gives the following entry for the e. Used as the equivalent of a possessive adjective before names of some parts of the body: grab him by the neck; an infection of the hand. Voting to close this as general reference. – Robusto Nov 27 '12 at 13:32
  • "We are not talking about a specific mind." Hmmm, another "rule" about English with exceptions. Time to expand the mind, I guess... – J.R. Nov 27 '12 at 15:41
  • We could debate whether the usage is logical, but it is not specific to heart, mind, and soul. We use the definite article when the word is a countable noun, even when it's being used to refer to a "generic example" of that class. Like your music title example reminds me of Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man", not "for Comman Man". Advertisers say "a gift for the woman in your life", not "... for woman ..." Etc. In some cases a plural would also work. – Jay Nov 27 '12 at 16:12

In such cases the definite article is used to make a generic reference, with the result that the ‘noun phrase refers to the whole class, rather than just one or more instances of the class’(‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’).


We can speak about mind or the mind when speaking generally. Check out the titles of these philosophy books: they all use "Mind", not "The Mind". Then check out these science books: they use "The Mind" not just "Mind". Perhaps the difference is that the philosophy books are talking about something abstract and the science books are talking about something concrete (many scientists reject the idea of a mind-body duality and insist that the mind is actually a set of measurable brain functions) and generic, as Barrie points out. In your examples, the words are used as generics and can be replaced by your mind. In the philosophy books, mind cannot be replaced by your mind.

  • And let's not forget: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." – J.R. Nov 27 '12 at 17:49

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