raisingfink   Wednesday, June 16, 2004, 00:24 GMT
Hi. I'm sure someone's probably asked about this before, but if any of you could help me out - when do you use "the"? For example, what's the difference between:
a) The dog is man's best friend.
b) Dogs are man's best friend. (or should that be friends?)

Is there a difference in meaning between The Attorney General's Chambers and Attorney General's Chambers?

My student is also wondering if it's possible to say "The Chambers has decided to.." I prefer "Chambers". But I can't explain why.

Might Mick   Wednesday, June 16, 2004, 06:23 GMT
"b) Dogs are man's best friend." is a generalising statement, that's why "dogs" is plural. i.e. Dogs in general.

"a) The dog is man's best friend." doesn't make much sense.
"The dog" refers to a particular dog. But here, you're saying this particular dog is a friend to all of mankind.

I see no difference in meaning between "The Attorney General's Chambers" and "Attorney General's Chambers". The latter is just shortened for simplicity. This is something often done in newspapers with unecessary articles like "the" and "a".

Because it's a title, I would say "The Chambers". I can't think of any titles at the top of my head that don't require "The".
Might Mick   Wednesday, June 16, 2004, 08:16 GMT
I had another about think it...

"a)" is in fact used like "b)" in some literary contexts like narration for generalising. But as you can see, it is confusing when "the dog" is used to mean "dogs" in a broad sense. In an appropriate setting though, it's usually obvious what means what.
raisingfink   Wednesday, June 16, 2004, 08:50 GMT
Maya l'abeille   Wednesday, June 16, 2004, 08:50 GMT
In my native language - French - we always use an article in any case.
That's why I really have trouble figuring out how it works in English...

As Mick said, you have to use an article only when you're talking about something particular. But apparently, it's not all the story.

Sometimes you can read "tenses of verbs", but also "THE tenses of THE verbs"... (??)
I thought that, as general things, "tenses" & "verbs" wouldn't need any article. Could someone possibly explain me this? :-)
Might Mick   Wednesday, June 16, 2004, 10:17 GMT
In French, the plural "les chiens" is also used like "dogs" for generalising.

When generalising in English, I think you can only use an article with "countable" nouns. E.g. the eagle, the tomato, the worker, the soldier. (But again, this mode is only used in a narrow set of circumstances and formal at that)

Uncountable nouns, especially abstract ones describing states generally, take on no article and are singular E.g. greed, colour, housing, fruit, liquid, construction, meaning, beer, illness, intelligence, water.
However where they're also countable as types, they too can be pluralised. E.g. colours(not qualities but types of colours), fruits, liquids, beers(Heineken, Carlton, Foster's), illnesses(flu, cancer, AIDS).
Damian   Wednesday, June 16, 2004, 15:50 GMT
George is my best friend.

PS: George is black, with a white spot on his chest, always wants a walk, is very inquisitive, has a cold nose and a really wet, sloppy slobbering lick.

George = the dog Damo = the Man
"The dog is Man's best friend"

PPS: I will see him again next week when I go home to Scotland
Jacob   Wednesday, June 16, 2004, 16:17 GMT
This is pretty subtle, but the definite article "the" can be used to denote an entire abstract class, collective entity, or concept. Sorry if that's confusing; I'll try to illustrate.

When you say "The dog is man's best friend", we understand what you mean by "the dog" to be "dogs in general", and we would never understand it to mean a particular dog that is the best friend of all mankind.

Here are some similar, common usages:

1. "The human body is a fascinating piece of machinery." (Not a particular human body; human bodies in general, as a class).

2. "The tractor caused a revolution in farming techniques." (Not a particular tractor; tractors as a class.)

3. "The natural number is the building block of mathematics." (Not a particular natural number, but the whole CONCEPT of natural numbers.)

Now, any one of these could be rephrased by using the plural and you get an equivalent, acceptable result -- but it sometimes sounds a little awkward. For example, #1 can be rewritten as

1b. "Human bodies are fascinating pieces of machinery."

This means the same as one but the repeated plural just sounds a little weird.