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 Sep 5th, 2010, 12:10 am
eslHQ Member
 
Join Date: Sep 4th, 2010
Location: California
Posts: 4
sqhahn10 is on a distinguished road
Default Generic reference the

Hi Eric,

In a title, 'Advantages and Disadvantates of Owing a Dog', would it be possible to substitute the indefinite article a with the definite article the in order to imply the generic reference?

Song Hahn
Reply With Quote
  #2 (permalink)  
Unread Sep 8th, 2010, 11:17 am
Sue
 
Join Date: Oct 8th, 2006
Location: Milan
Posts: 1,363
susan53 is on a distinguished road
Default Re: Generic reference the

No. Generic reference can be expressed by "the", but only to refer to a species or group- eg : One animal in danger of extinction is the tiger.

Here you are not talking about owning a whole species, but just one animal. So "a + singular" is the correct form.

Theoretically the plural could also be used The advantages and disadvantages of owning dogs. But this would make the title ambiguous - it could also be interpreted as meaning The advantages and disadvantages of owning more than one dog. So "a+singular" is more likely.
__________________
An ELT Notebook
The DELTA Course
Reply With Quote
  #3 (permalink)  
Unread Sep 8th, 2010, 01:07 pm
eslHQ Member
 
Join Date: Sep 4th, 2010
Location: California
Posts: 4
sqhahn10 is on a distinguished road
Default Re: Generic reference the

Dear Sue (Susan 53),
Thank you very much for your time and trouble in answering the generic reference question I posted.
The reason why I asked the question was that I chanced to read (not thoroughly) a grammar book entitled A Grammar of Contemporary English, Randolph Quirk, et al, which has the following explanation as to the generic reference on page 150.
With indefinite specific reference, singular count nouns take the indefinite article a(n), while plural count nouns and mass nouns take zero article or, usually, the ‘light quantitative article’ some (and any in nonassertive contexts, see 4.127): I want a pen /some pens/some ink. With generic reference, the distinction for number and definiteness are neutralized with count nouns. With mass nouns, only the zero article is possible:
The tiger is
A tiger is
Tigers are } beautiful
Music is

I will really appreciate your kind response to my above information.

All the best,

Song
Reply With Quote
  #4 (permalink)  
Unread Sep 9th, 2010, 06:27 am
Sue
 
Join Date: Oct 8th, 2006
Location: Milan
Posts: 1,363
susan53 is on a distinguished road
Default Re: Generic reference the

This explanation is true and describes how the form reflects the meaning, but doesn't deal with use. Have a look at the Communicative Grammar again (in my very old edition it's section 74, but if you have a newer edition and it doesn't correspond, just look up the -generic reference in the index) and you'll find :

The definite article also has a generic use referring to what is general or typical for a whole class of objects. This is found with count nouns :
The tiger is a beautiful animal.
Here "the" indicates the class of tigers, not one individual member of the class.
(My underlining)
and later they say :
.. when we are dealing with a whiole class of objects the differences between definite and indefinite, singular and plural, tend to lose their significance. There is, however, a slight difference in the fact that "the tiger" (generic) refers to the species as a whole, whereas "a tiger" (generic" refers to any member of the species. We can say :
The tiger is in danger of becoming extinct.
but not : *A tiger is in danger of becoming extinct.


Your essay title, as I said in the first reply, did not mean Advantages and disadvantages of owning the class/species "dog" but the Advantages and disadvantages of owning any one dog - ie an individual member of the species. Therefore here, the definite article can't be used.

The use of the definite article is actually relatively rare - a) because we make generic statements about classes relatively rarely and b) because the plural can be used to refer to classes of objects as well - and I think we tend to use that form more. It expresses the notion of "all tigers" (or whatever).This is probably why all the examples of the definite article used generically tend to involve tigers. No-one can think of any other examples

So in summary :

- The definitete article + singular or zero article plus plural you specify for countable nouns can all be used to express generic reference to a class of objects. Intuitively, I'd imagine that the plural is probably the most common, but I don't have any evidence to back that up.
- When referring to any individual member of the class, the indefinite article + singular will be used.

If in doubt try "expanding" the statement :

- You can use The+singular if you can say The species - eg The species dog is carniverous but not *Advantages and disadvantages of owning the species "dog", because you can't own a complete species. You just own individual members of that species.
- You can use the plural if you can precede it with All : All dogs are carniverous but again not *Advantages and disadvantages of owning all dogs, because you don't own all dogs - you just own one or two or some other number of them.
- You can use a/an+singular if you are speaking about any one individual member of the species any single member of the species : The advantages and disadvantages of owning any dog. - ie it doesn't make any difference whether your dog is a Chihuahua or a Great Dane - the statements you make will be true for that particular dog.
__________________
An ELT Notebook
The DELTA Course
Reply With Quote
  #5 (permalink)  
Unread Sep 13th, 2010, 11:33 pm
eslHQ Member
 
Join Date: Sep 4th, 2010
Location: California
Posts: 4
sqhahn10 is on a distinguished road
Default Re: Generic reference the

September 11, 2010

Dear Susan 53,

It is very thoughtful of you to respond specifically to my e-mail inquiry as to the generic reference with regards to conceptualizing the neutralization of number and definitiveness of the definite article the and the indefinite article a. When I read your initial explanation about my inquiry, I seemed to agree with you; however, when I read the following information, I still am not quite certain that the neutralization of number and definitiveness cannot be applied to the article in the title, ”Advantages and Disadvantages of Owning the versus a Dog.

As far as the use of articles is concerned, it is said that English native speakers use the indefinite and definite articles based on their intuition. However, considering the fact that those grammarians who initially elaborated on the neutralization of number and definitiveness are renowned writers of English grammar books, I want to think that the grammar rules have changed for our convenience, because it is very simple to apply the concept of neutralization to our discourse.

At any rate, thank you very much for your kind and specific explanation as to the use of articles with generic references.

Best regards,


Song Hahn




The following information is what I have gleaned so far since I received your response.

A. Articles in generalizations - Topic Powered by Social Strata

Then, much to my surprise, leafing through "The Grammar Book" (Marianne Celce-Murcia and Diane Larsen-Freeman), I saw the following examples/explanation:

"Many reference grammars and ESL/EFL texts (e.g., Quirk and Greenbaum, 1973) cite examples such as the following that state that all four patterns express generic meaning - the implication being that they share the same meaning and use:

1. The German is a good musician
2. A German is a good musician
3. The Germans are good musicians
4. Germans are good musicians

Do most grammarians agree that the four utterances are equally possible? ...Articles are so tricky...

B. THE GRAMMAR BOOK AN ESL/EFL TEACHER’S COURSE, Marianne Celce, et all, states on pages 179-180, under the Generic Usage, The use of articles and other inflections to convey generic meanings is a matter that is not very well treated in reference grammars and ESL/EFL textbooks. Quirk and Greenbaum (1973), for example, cite the following examples and state that all four patterns express generic meaning – the implication being that they all share the same meaning:

a. The German is a good musician
b. A German is a good musician
c. The Germans are good musicians
d. Germans are good musicians

C. Generic reference: a/the/no article
Speaking of generic references, Huddleston says that if the predicate applies to each individual of the generic group, you can use a, but if the predicate applies only to the group as a whole, you can't. Thus,
A whale is a large mammal. (Each whale is a large mammal.)
But not:
*A whale is an endangered species. (It is not the case that each whale is an endangered species.)
(In either case, you can use the.)

D. Generic Meaning
A similar process is at work with the use of these generic forms in context. We have a set of sentences that seem to have very much the same meaning. It is probable that the uses of these forms do not entirely overlap. However, we do not yet have a complete picture of how generic forms are used. But the use of computers for linguistic research is a new field, and we get more information all the time.
Here are some things that we do know about these generic noun phrase types when they are used in context:
1. The + singular: The computer has changed modern life.
This form is considered more formal than the others--and is not as likely to be used in conversation as the plural noun: Computers have changed modern life.
Master (1987) found in the sample that he analyzed that this form with the was often used to introduce at topic--and came at the beginning of a paragraph and in introductions and conclusions.
E. A Grammar of Contemporary English, Randolph Quirk, et al, which has the following explanation as to the generic reference on page 150.

With indefinite specific reference, singular count nouns take the indefinite article a(n), while plural count nouns and mass nouns take zero article or, usually, the ‘light quantitative article’ some (and any in nonassertive contexts, see 4.127): I want a pen /some pens/some ink. With generic reference, the distinction for number and definiteness are neutralized with count nouns. With mass nouns, only the zero article is possible:

a. The tiger is beautiful.
b. A tiger is beautiful.
c. Tigers are beautiful.
d. Music is beautiful.
Reply With Quote
  #6 (permalink)  
Unread Sep 14th, 2010, 02:50 am
Sue
 
Join Date: Oct 8th, 2006
Location: Milan
Posts: 1,363
susan53 is on a distinguished road
Default Re: Generic reference the

In this case, the Communicative Grammar's explanation demonstrates exactly why "the" is not possible in your sentence. However, if you're still not convinced, just ask any native speaker whether "the dog" in this sentence is right or wrong. They may not be able to tell you why, but they will all tell you that it's wrong.
__________________
An ELT Notebook
The DELTA Course
Reply With Quote
  #7 (permalink)  
Unread Sep 15th, 2010, 12:06 pm
eslHQ Member
 
Join Date: Sep 4th, 2010
Location: California
Posts: 4
sqhahn10 is on a distinguished road
Default Re: Generic reference the

Dear Susan 53,

Thank you very much for your prompt response to my query as to the issue. I hope an erudite English grammarian will logically elaborate on the reason why 'the neutralization of the generic refernce' was discussed.

Again I appreciate your time and trouble.

Best regards,
Song
Reply With Quote
  #8 (permalink)  
Unread Sep 15th, 2010, 04:17 pm
Eric's Avatar
Administrator
 
Join Date: Dec 10th, 2004
Location: Montreal
Age: 45
Posts: 1,224
Eric is on a distinguished road
Default Re: Generic reference the

Quote:
Quote sqhahn10 View Post
I hope an erudite English grammarian will logically elaborate on the reason why 'the neutralization of the generic refernce' was discussed.
You are getting advice from one of the most knowledgeable grammarians I've ever known! I don't think you're going to find a more elaborate explanation on the web, especially not for free!
__________________
ESL Flashcards - Free downloadable flashcards
TEFL Course Review - Find the best TEFL Course
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

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




All times are GMT -5. The time now is 10:25 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 - 2020, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Content Relevant URLs by vBSEO 3.6.0 PL2