what is "article" used for? apple- an apple-the apple- this apple...
December 23, 2009 10:51pm CST
What on earth is "article" used for? Why must we use "article" sometimes? What does "apple"-"an apple"-"the apple" stand for? What is the difference between them? In Chinese culture, there are few "article" used so that we always forget the "article" in English Using. Chinese students are used to writing sentence like this: I ate apple this morning. What is wrong with that? As the picture show that: "apple" per se is just an imaginary figment in the mind. Namely, "apple" per se is just "imaginary apple". In our routine lives, there exist "real apple". Once we are talking about "real apple", we usually add "article" to turn "imaginary apple" to "real apple", like "an apple-the apple". Is it right?
• Cambridge, England
24 Dec 09
The articles "a", "the" and "some" are used to express the particularity or individuality of something. "I ate apple this morning" or "I ate some apple this morning" are more or less equivalent and mean that you ate a particular kind of food (how much is not specified). One would use this, for example, if one were talking to a doctor about a sickness or food allergy. "I ate an apple this morning" is used when you want to say that you ate one and only one apple. "I ate the apple this morning" implies that there was one apple and that you ate it. Different languages have different ways of expressing shades of meaning. Many languages don't have 'articles' in the way that English does and the way you would express the three different meanings in the above examples may be done in different ways - by word order or by emphasis, for example. Very often, the word without an article expresses a quality or a generality. For example, "I cannot eat apple. It brings me out in a rash." suggests that it is some quality of apples in general to which one is allergic. "It was the apple that made me sick." Doesn't necessarily refer to any particular apple (though it may do): it may mean that it was a particular ingredient in a dish (apple) which was the problem. Syntax, especially of a language totally unlike our own, is probably the hardest thing to master. Many people have problems with the shades of meaning (the slight differences of meaning) that word order, emphasis and the use or absence of articles convey!
25 Dec 09
Hi owlwings, thanks a lot. I have been thinking about what you said, especially the shades of meaning between apple, an apple(only one) and the apple (specified). I enjoy your conclusion-"Very often, the word without an article expresses a quality or a generality". I hope there is a more abstractive explaining of article. We used to be confused by phrases and idioms-like "go to a/the school-go to school" "go to a/the church-go to church" "at a/the table-at table"... Could I take it like that "the word without any article usually means the abstractive meaning, expressing a common quality or generality, sometimes even a concept in our mind", for example, go to a school(only one, maybe, to do something else but learning), go to the school(specified, maybe, to do something special but learning), go to school(generally speaking, which school is not so important, just a abstractive concept to mean a place for learning something, go to school to do school thing) Chinese students are required forcibly to recite too many these examples like that without understanding. Our teacher told us "playing a/the football" is a wrong expression but never tell us why. Yes, it makes no sense to say "playing a football"(hardly play two or more footballs). It also seems silly to say "playing the football". Very often, playing football really have something to do with a/the real football, but how many or which one is not important. Actually what we play is the "rule/quality/generality" of football-in my poor childhood, there is no football available, so we take a "cloth-ball" for substitute. That why we usually play "football" without any article. Though "playing football" is a commonplace expression, it didn't mean that "playing a/the football" is meaningless. For example: if Beckham gave us a football for a gift, we would play the football everyday.
• Cambridge, England
25 Dec 09
"Football" and the verb "to play" are interesting. "Football" without an article means the game but "the/a football" means the ball that the game is played with. "Play" is one of those verbs which can be followed by a preposition to change its meaning. "To play with [something]" usually means unstructured amusement using a particular object, so one would "play with a football". Historically, to express playing an organised game (such as football or cards), the verb used to take "at", so that one can commonly read in older English writing (for example, Shakespeare) "He was playing at cards". Somewhere along the line (I'm not sure quite when) the "at" was gradually dropped so, in modern English, "to play cards" and "to play football" is correct and "to play at ..." would imply that one was playing in a particular place. "I was playing at my friend's house". "What game were you playing?" "We were playing football." or "We were playing with her dolls." The only time when "at" is still commonly used is when the game or activity starts with a verb: "We were playing at being doctors and nurses." "Play" can take other prepositions as well. "To play to an audience", "To play up" (without any object, meaning 'to misbehave' or 'to behave uncharacteristically'), "to play down [something]" (= 'to understate or minimize the effect of something' as in "The finance director played down [the effects of] the recession in his report")