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Hi.

This is regarding rather minute an issue but it may be of much interest to non-native speakers of English whose mother tongues do not use articles or differentiate the plural forms of nouns from the singulars.

I wanted start a journal by stating [1-1] after coming back from my trip, but a good friend of mine shook his head, and pointed out that I should say either [1-2] or [1-3] instead. While [2-1] sounds okay (or, does it?), what do you think makes [1-1] sound odd?

[1-1] I went to lakes in Scotland in Feburary in my recent visit to Europe.
[1-2] I went to the lakes in Scotland in Feburary in my recent visit to Europe.
[1-3] I went to some lakes in Scotland in Feburary in my recent visit to Europe.
[2-1] I climbed mountains near Florence in my recent visit to Europe.

Does [1-4] sound okay if this opens my journal? I’m sure [2-2] does as the opener, but I’m not too sure about [1-4].

[1-4] I went to a lake in Scotland in Feburary in my recent visit to Europe.
[2-2] I climbed a mountain near Florence in my recent visit to Europe.

Even without a prior mention of the beach, you could normally say “the beach” as the listeners understand which beach you are talking about --- the beach that is situated in the area you are talking about. If the listeners can clearly tell there are more than one beaches in the area you are talking about, would you say “the beaches” even if you don’t mention the beaches beforehand as in [2-2]?

[2-1] I went to the beach and had a B.B.Q. there the other day with friends from the college.
[2-2] I went to the beaches and had a B.B.Q. several times that year.

Hiro/ Sendai, Japan
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Comments  
1-1 is as good as the other sentences in that set. It does not sound terribly odd, just less common, because native speakers tend to use some (/səm/) as the plural indefinite article.

1-4 is fine for your journal: lakes are just as countable as mountains. I would use during my visit rather than in my visit.

The beach (singular) is fine even if not mentioned before, as it designates a type of terrain common to all coastal countries; the plural, the beaches, though less common, is just as acceptable, for the same reason. And for the same reason again, we go to the mountains in the summer-- even though you don't know what mountains I am speaking of.
In what kind of context would you use [1-1], Mister Micawber? Would you use that to emphasize you went to lakes this time as opposed to forests in Scotland a while back, saying:

"I went to lakes in Scotland in Feburary during my recent visit to Europe, instead of going to forests. Last time I was in the country a while back, I went to see forests, but thought I might enjoy visiting some lakes this time"?

Now, what is the subtle (?) difference between [2-3] and [2-4], then?

[2-3] I climbed mountains near Florence in my recent visit to Europe.

[2-4] I climbed the mountains near Florence in my recent visit to Europe.

(I've just noticed I erroneously used the numbering for the beach examples in my last posting. The numbers should have been [3-1] and [3-2])

Thank you so very much in advance.

Hiro/ Sendai, Japan

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[1-1] sounds off to me because my first instinct would be to put "the" in front of "lakes". It's not wrong, but it's not what I would naturally say. [1-3] would also work, but it wouldn't be my first choice either.

As for your last question, in the case of there being more than one beach in the area, either sentence would be fine.
Hello Hiro

I'm glad to know you are from Japan, as I too am an English learner from Japan. I'm amazed at your excellent English writing skills and I believe you know much more about English than me. But if you don't mind let me tell what thought I have about your question.

I was told in school that the basic rule about the use of THE is they (= English native speakers) use THE when the speaker believes the listener can understand what s/he is speaking about. This suggests that whether we should use THE or not is strongly dependent on whom we are talking to.
So when a speaker mentions a place for the first time in the interlocution and modifies it with THE, the speaker means the place is the one such that the listener would or could know where it is and what it is like. For example, if a boy speaks to his father "I'll go to the beach this Sunday", it implies the beach is the one the father also knows well. On the contrary, when you are writing a letter to some person, for example, your friend who lives in a remote country and never has been in Japan, you would probably write "I'll go to a beach this Sunday".
Speaking about the examples you gave us, "I went to a lake (or some lakes) in Scotland during my recent visit to Europe" sounds natural to me because I, as a common Japanese, don't know anything about lakes in such a remote place like Scotland. So if I hear this sentence, I'll wait your next speech expecting you will give me a detailed explanation about the lake(s).
One of weird uses of THE would be "the" in a general statement such as "Some people like climbing the mountains and other people like looking at the mountains from a distance". In this case, the deletion of THE would give a notion more strongly that this saying is a general statement.

I'm glad if it could be some help to you.

paco
Hi, Paco.

Gee, I'm more than flattered. Thanks. Seriously, I have a long way to go; although I spent some time in an English-speaking country as a teen, my grasp of the language is half-baked, and I desparately need everyone's help ....

I will be back with my thoughts on this matter when I've gotten over this horrendous cold I have. The flu shot I had my doc give me Friday must have brought it along. I can only think a second!

Hiro/ Sendai, Japan
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The cold is gone over yonder, and now I can think.



Yes, the sense of “the” that my running around with teenage buddies in the country instilled in my language hemisphere is to use it as a marker when you “believe” the listener or reader knows which one(s) of the set you are referring to. And with some it sometimes doesn’t matter whether the listener or reader is actually sure which. They boldly want the assumption of the mutual understanding to be there.



If the utterance, “I went to the beach,” comes right out without a mention of the locality where the beach is in or near, you would most likely decide it is the beach in the area the speaker resides in, or s/he was temporarily in. It’s like a sense of attached-ness --- of being attached to the area.



If I’m writing to a friend of mine who lives in a remote country and never has been to Japan, I would probably write, "I'll go to the beach this Sunday," nonetheless if the beach I would like to go to is one near here, even though there are a number of individual beaches around here. Here I’m looking at the group of beaches as “the beach.” What do you think, Paco, or anyone for that matter?



The thing that made me post the queries in the first place probably goes back to this:



Please look at the example sentences below.

[1-1] Beaches of the area are sandy.

[1-2] The beaches of the area are sandy.



With [1-1] you would assume some beaches in the area are sandy; maybe all are sandy, maybe a few are sandy. With [1-2], however, you would most probably suppose all the beaches are sandy.



This must have brought me some quirky sense that “the” points to all (ref. my posting under the title “the Teacher”), and made me decide not to use “the lakes” and to use “lakes” instead because I didn’t go to all the lakes there. But now I know you most likely would not use that.



Hiro/ Sendai, Japan

Hero Hiro

I've been annoyed by the usage of articles since I started learning English and still now I didn't get it.

Quite recently I got a question from a Japanese person about the difference between the following two sentences.
(1) This is the book I bought yesterday.
(2) This is a book I bought yesterday.
According to the questioner, an E-J dictionary is explaining that the sentence #1 implies "I" bought only "the book" yesterday, and that the sentence #2 implies "I" bought other books too. What do you think about this explanation? To me the first part of the explanation sounds plausible. But as for the latter part, I rather disagree. To me, the sentence #2 seems not to say anything more than "This is a book bought by me yesterday" and I feel we cannot know from the sentence #2 whether "I" bought other books or not. I would like to hear opinions about this from people here including you.

paco
To me, the only real difference between the two sentences is that, in the first one, the speaker is assuming that the listener already has previous knowledge about that particuar book (perhaps the speaker mentioned it earlier?), whereas in the second one, the speaker is simply introducing the listener to the book. The "a" in the second sentence doesn't imply that the speaker bought more than one book at all. It just makes such an assumption on the listener's part possible.
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