# re: Articles?page 2

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Hi. I have some questions about articles.

1. There's an exercise. You have a picture and in this picture there are a few desks, a few chairs, one book, one bag, one blackboard (on the blackboard there is one big pen, it's sketched), there is one door and one window.

In this exercise you're supposed to ask: What's this? And answer: It's a desk etc. In the answer key all the answers use the article "a". What about "one book", "one door", "one window", "one bag" "one blackboard". The answer key says: "What's this?" "It's a bag". "What's this?" "It's a door". etc.

Shouldn't it rather be "It's the bag", "It's the door" "It's the window (instead of: It's a window)?

2. There is another exercise. Similar to the one above. There's a picture. In the picture there are: one teacher, one board, one door, some boys, some girls, two pencils, two pens, two books, two rubbers, a few desks, two bags, two windows.

Answers from the key: the teacher, the board, a window, the door, a girl, a bag, a boy, a chair, a desk, a book, a pencil, a rubber, a pen.

--- I understand that they used "the" because there was only one teacher, door and board, and more than one girls, pencils, books, bags, etc.

However it seems to be contradictory to exercise number one because there's also "one window" and "one door" etc. and the key says "It's a door" and "It' a window" instead of "It's the door" and "It's the window".
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Hi, Clive,
CliveIf you show most people a picture of a classroom ... the likely answer will be 'That's a student'.

... if you do that while pointing to the figure in front ... you are more likely to hear 'That's the teacher' ...
I agree that those responses are more likely. However, I'm claiming that the choices we make between "the" and "a" are not based on likelihood. We may, in fact, hear "That's a teacher" in the situation you describe, and that would be grammatically correct too, although considerations of likelihood don't explain why.
CliveI hesitate about the word 'coincidence'. There's some degree of reasoning behind the choice of an article.
There may be a misunderstanding, and I'd like to clear it up if I can -- and it won't be easy! I don't think I said anything that implied that there is no reasoning involved in choosing an article -- just that Newguest's reasoning was faulty. The flaw, as I see it, is a very subtle one, and, unfortunately, that will require a fairly lengthy explanation.
______________

In the context of choosing "a" or "the", Newguest said, "I understand that they used "the" [instead of "a"] because there was only one teacher."

I hope I'm not taking that statement too literally when I say that to me this claims that whenever there is one of something, we must use "the", not "a". (I think Newguest's comment about the contradiction between the two exercises supports me in this.) It well may be that in the case at hand there was one teacher and that "the" was used (That's the coincidence), but "the" was not used (in preference over "a") because there was one teacher. One teacher can as easily be "a teacher" as "the teacher". Nothing about the singularity of the noun demands it be preceded by "the", not "a".

My comment about the coincidence was to dissuade Newguest against believing that singularity demands "the". You may need or want to use "the" in a given situation, and there may be some reason for it, but you can't appeal to singularity as the reason, because plurals take "the" equally well.

I don't see it as a matter of using the (as a general principle) when there is only one of a thing. It's that you can pick out a specific object in the environment using the and only the if there is only one of them there. So it's not that "they did use (or had to use) the (and not a) because there was only one", but that they could use the and only the (to create a unique reference) because there was only one. If there were more than one, the alone could not pick out the intended referent; more description would be needed, for example, the teacher wearing the blue skirt or the teacher on the left. Nevertheless, the could still be used for each of two or more teachers.

As it turns out, 'they' could and did choose "the" instead of "a". As I understand the description given of the exercise, the picture can be said to contain "a teacher" as well as to contain "the teacher". It just depends on how the speaker conceptualizes what he's looking at. The reason for choosing the, I claim, has to do with the speaker's wish to create a reference to that particular teacher in the picture (the teacher), and (therefore) his wish not simply to mention a generic member of the class 'teachers' (a teacher).

In any case, it seems to me, in view of what I claim is the reason for such choices, that exercises like the one Newguest has cited are often mostly guessing games, and what the student has to guess is how the exercise-maker conceptualized the elements of the picture. The only thing that can save it is a clear understanding of the point of view the student is to take when answering the questions, and if the instructions for the exercise do not spell that out in great enough detail, the teacher may have to supply what is missing.

Whew! Well, maybe that helped explain my point of view, and maybe it didn't. I'll just have to take my chances!

CJ
Well, at any rate, Newguest is getting value for his/her money from us.

Clive
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Clivegetting value for his/her money from us

CJ
Here's a different view.

If you see someone teaching a class you will say He/she is the teacher. In fact, you cannot be certain that he/she is a teacher by profession (unless you know him/her). Imagine a classroom with students and two adults. If you know who the adults are you can say
See that man in the grey suit. He is a teacher (by profession, he just doesn't teach this class) and then you go on to say
That man in the black suit is the teacher.
The choice of the article before teacher suggests the distinction between the two usages. (function vs profession).
CalifJim
Newguest
2. There is another exercise. Similar to the one above. There's a picture. ...

Answers from the key: the teacher, the board,

What's the question? You gave answers, but no question.

Hi

The question was the same: "What's this?" "It's the teacher" "It's the board" "It's the door". But the other examples used the article "a", i.e.: "It's a book", "It's a girl" etc. But maybe in this context the students are sitting in a classroom during the lesson and they are describing what they see in their own classroom. Whereas in the 1st exercise the students are describing the picture, they're describing something they see in the picture, it's not their own classroom, and maybe that's why in the 2nd exercise they say "The teacher" instead of "A teacher" because they're talking about the teacher standing in front of them and teaching them. Maybe it's the same with "the board" and "the door".

In my room there is a printer and I would say to somebody: Look at THE printer instead of Look at A printer. My reasoning is that there's only one printer so both me and the person listening to me knows which printer I'm talking about.

However I'm sure I could also say: Look Brett, it's a printer, it's got some buttons, there are some sheets of paper in it etc. In this case I would just be describing my printer, so I think I could say "a printer" as well.

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Clive Well, at any rate, Newguest is getting value for his/her money from us.

Clive

HIS.

And thank you for your thorough explanations guys!

NewguestIn my room there is a printer and I would say to somebody: Look at THE printer instead of Look at A printer. My reasoning is that there's only one printer so both me and the person listening to me knows which printer I'm talking about.

However I'm sure I could also say: Look Brett, it's a printer, it's got some buttons, there are some sheets of paper in it etc. In this case I would just be describing my printer, so I think I could say "a printer" as well.
You got it.

CJ
CalifJimHowever, the question "What's this?" typically means "What is this an example of?" or "What class of things does this belong to?" Moving to the answer side, "It's a bag" typically means "It is an example of a bag" or "It belongs to the class 'bags' ". So the exercise is looking for typical answers to typical questions.

Hi

I have one more question.

There's a picture of a red door and underneath it says: "a red door", there's a picture of a blue pen and underneath it says "a blue pen". (There is no question to this exercise, one is just supposed to fill in the missing colors, e.g. a ... door, a ... pen etc.)

I'm just curious if the same rule, which you described above, i.e. that this pen and this door belong to the certain class (of doors and pens) and they are just examples of red doors and blue pens also applies here?

I guess it does, but I just thought to myself that when we specify something we should rather use "the". It's not only a door and a pen, but it's something more: it's a red door and it's a blue pen, so maybe: THE red door and THE blue pen???

Thanks

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NewguestThere's a picture of a red door and underneath it says: "a red door", there's a picture of a blue pen and underneath it says "a blue pen". (There is no question to this exercise, one is just supposed to fill in the missing colors, e.g. a ... door, a ... pen etc.)

I'm just curious if the same rule, which you described above, i.e. that this pen and this door belong to the certain class (of doors and pens) and they are just examples of red doors and blue pens also applies here?

I guess it does
You guessed right. A picture labeled "A red door" may as well be labeled "This is a red door", or, if you want the very long form, "This is an example of something in the class doors and it is red" or "This is an example of something in the class red doors". But if the exercise is about colors, it hardly matters which article is used.
NewguestIt's not only a door and a pen, but it's something more: it's a red door and it's a blue pen, so maybe: THE red door and THE blue pen???
No. Your reasoning is not really correct here. The use of an adjective does not require us to use the article the.

One of the uses of the, if used with red door, for example, would be equivalent to aforementioned: "the red door" = "(the) aforementioned red door". Since there is no previous mention when you simply have a picture of a door, as in the exercise you described, the is not particularly appropriate. Supposing, though, that there had been a story in which a door was mentioned, and the picture was shown at the end of the story, the red door would refer back to the door that had been mentioned in the preceding story. In that case the picture label "the red door" would mean "that door which was mentioned in the story".

Another of the uses of the allows a contrast between one thing and another, like this: If there were two pictures of doors, side by side, you might have the two labels "The red door" and "The green door", for example, if you were teaching children the colors 'red' and 'green'. The labels would then mean, if you want the long description, "This door is the red door, not the green door" and "This door is the green door, not the red door". A single picture creates no contrast of this kind, however, so again, the is not particularly appropriate.

CJ