eslHQ Home
User Name Password
Lost Password? | Join eslHQ.com, it's FREE!
View today's posts
Search Extras Help   

Reply
LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1 (permalink)  
Unread Mar 25th, 2011, 05:01 am
eslHQ Zealot
 
Join Date: Feb 24th, 2010
Location: Jinhua, China
Age: 34
Posts: 77
chokosaki is on a distinguished road
Default definitive article + instruments

I have a question that seems to be more complicated than it should be....

Which is correct?

"I play guitar."
or
"I play the guitar."

I assumed that both are correct depending on context.
Such as...."I play the guitar" is more definitive. I can say that if someone is asking me "do you play guitar or drums?" However, in a general statement I can say "I play guitar."

So, I want to know which is correct? I have a friend studying for his TEFL and he is curious. He says straight up and down that it can only be 'I play the guitar' and that the other is always wrong.

I'm an American btw and am more concerned with the American English part, however, if there is a difference between British English and American English, I would like to know. Thanks.
Reply With Quote
  #2 (permalink)  
Unread Mar 25th, 2011, 06:20 am
Sue
 
Join Date: Oct 8th, 2006
Location: Milan
Posts: 1,362
susan53 is on a distinguished road
Default Re: definitive article + instruments

Play guitar is now much more common in both US and UK English . If you search the British National Corpus you find :

play guitar : 27 examples
play the guitar : 16 examples


Google, on the other hand, brought up :
play guitar : 12,700,000 results
play the guitar : 3,400,000 results


Here are some examples of "play guitar" from British English (from the BNC)

ART 1355 I'm learning to play guitar and I like Johnny Marr's style.

AT1 1571 If you are the singer and guitarist it is difficult trying to remember the words, play guitar at the same time and think of something witty to say between the songs,’ he says.

AT1 1971 In some ways I wish I had something to fall back on but I wanted to play guitar in a band, not waste time at university.’

C9J 1892 I've got nothing against keyboards, in fact I love keyboard music, but if you want to play guitar you should buy a guitar that was made to be played like a guitar.

C9K 22 WHAT'S NEW News & New Products Memories of Semie Moseley, and the chance to play guitar for a worthy cause.

PS - It's the definite article, not the definitive article - and in this case it certainly wasn't definitive
__________________
An ELT Notebook
The DELTA Course
Reply With Quote
  #3 (permalink)  
Unread Mar 25th, 2011, 06:30 am
eslHQ Zealot
 
Join Date: Feb 24th, 2010
Location: Jinhua, China
Age: 34
Posts: 77
chokosaki is on a distinguished road
Default Re: definitive article + instruments

Thanks a lot for the help. I've told my friend but he insists the only correct way is 'play the...'. Hehe, definite eh...my bad. I know the rules and whatnot...but my lingo is off. Thanks again!
Reply With Quote
  #4 (permalink)  
Unread Mar 25th, 2011, 11:32 am
Sue
 
Join Date: Oct 8th, 2006
Location: Milan
Posts: 1,362
susan53 is on a distinguished road
Default Re: definitive article + instruments

Language changes. In Shakepeare's time the expression was "to play on the (instrument)". Here's a quote from one of Christopher Marlowe's plays :

(Tamburlaine the Great, Part I. ) .... "We learn," he said, "to study by studying, to play on the lute by playing, to dance by dancing, ...

Notice this is not the same as the modern use of the phrase with "on" - ie to play something on the guitar : If you're a beginning guitar player, you're probably interested in finding easy songs to play on the guitar.

So the language has changed, dropping the "on" when discussing general general ability rather than playing a specific piece of music. And I'd suggest it's changing again. It may well be that 30 years ago everyone said "play the guitar", and that many people still do. It's certainly the expression that I would use - I don't think I'd ever say "play guitar". But just because it's a part of my idiolect (and of your friend's, obviously) that doesn't mean it's "right". There is no "right" and "wrong" with this sort of expression, which is just a matter of usage. If not why do we say:
I can play the guitar but
I can drive a car

Were it a "grammatical rule", the article in each of these sentences should be the same. The definite article expresses specificity while the indefinite article expresses generality - so, logically, here we need the indefinite article. In other words, we should say I can play a guitar. But we don't - nobody does - and therefore if a language learner said it we could say it was "wrong".

The use of "the" with musical instruments is a usage rule describing what people say rather than explaining why they say it (similar eg to the fact that we say black and white rather than white and black. There's no particular logic behind it - the meaning remains the same. But we always use the former and not the latter.)

And the examples I quoted before clearly show that there are now alternative possibilities of usage with this expression. When 12,700,000 people choose play guitar as opposed to 3,400,000 saying play the guitar, how can that possibly be said to be "wrong"? At the very least it's an alternative to the older form, and by now it seems that it's the older form which is dying out.

Your friend reminds me of the mother watching her son in a military parade. "Oh look" she said, "all those soldiers are out of step except my little Johnny."
__________________
An ELT Notebook
The DELTA Course
Reply With Quote
  #5 (permalink)  
Unread Mar 25th, 2011, 12:07 pm
eslHQ Zealot
 
Join Date: Feb 24th, 2010
Location: Jinhua, China
Age: 34
Posts: 77
chokosaki is on a distinguished road
Default Re: definitive article + instruments

Language is definitely an evolving beast. Living in China I have met people from all over the world. The changes in English remind me of evolution. The language settled in different parts of the world and eventually just changed to meet the needs of the land.

In the end, I told my friend that he can go ahead and add the 'the' to it. Better to be safe than sorry when he takes the TEFL.

Thanks again for your help
Reply With Quote
  #6 (permalink)  
Unread Mar 25th, 2011, 12:14 pm
Sue
 
Join Date: Oct 8th, 2006
Location: Milan
Posts: 1,362
susan53 is on a distinguished road
Default Re: definitive article + instruments

Ah - OK. I'd misunderstood. I'd assumed your friend was a native speaker who was insisting that "his" way of speaking was the correct way.
__________________
An ELT Notebook
The DELTA Course
Reply With Quote
  #7 (permalink)  
Unread Mar 25th, 2011, 09:07 pm
eslHQ Zealot
 
Join Date: Feb 24th, 2010
Location: Jinhua, China
Age: 34
Posts: 77
chokosaki is on a distinguished road
Default Re: definitive article + instruments

Nah. Though we are in China, he's from India. English is more of a second language there and used mainly for business. His English is fantastic. In this situation, I am the native speaker who was insisting my way of speaking was the correct way (that both were correct). I was just trying to help him with his TEFL but I fear I may have irked him by how insistent I was.

There was a study that was done that reminds me of this situation.

In the study, a group of liberals and conservatives were given intentionally incorrect information about important topics in the news (health care, Iraq, tax breaks). Later, the same group was given inarguable evidence that corrected the false information. Instead of being like 'oh, OK I can see that now' the group continued to stand by the false information if it supported their views.

We, as a people, are quite stubborn and set in our ways.....
Reply With Quote
Reply


Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)
 
Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are On

Similar Threads Replies
Musical Instruments 0
Definite and Indefinite Article Game 1
Article on Using Translation in Teaching 0
The Indefinite Article 0
Article: Myths and misconceptions about L2 learning 3

Find the Best TEFL, TESL, TESOL & CELTA Certification Courses - User Submitted Ratings & Reviews for Online, Distance & Abroad TEFL Courses. Over 3,500 reviews of 100+ TEFL schools!

Teach English in Thailand - Onsite and Combined TEFL certification courses in Phuket, Thailand.


Free ESL Flashcards


Similar Threads Replies
Musical Instruments 0
Definite and Indefinite Article Game 1
Article on Using Translation in Teaching 0
The Indefinite Article 0
Article: Myths and misconceptions about L2 learning 3


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 05:51 pm.

All materials from this website are for classroom-use only. Digital redistribution of materials, in part or in whole, is strictly forbidden!

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.6.8
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Content Relevant URLs by vBSEO 3.6.0 PL2