A day an apple keep( the )doctor away

lingkky

Senior Member
chinese
A day an apple keep the doctor away.

My question is
Why is the article 'the" added in the sentence above?
Is doctor a specific noun in the sentence?
 
  • e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    When we talk about doctors, we tend to use the. Last week I went to see the doctor.
    It is true that a doctor might be written. The use of the does not have to mean that it was a specific doctor; it could be one out of several doctors.

    This is a common construction. For example, if you meet a friend in the street who asks you where you are going, you might say I'm on my way to the supermarket.
    Even if your friend does not know which supermarket you have in mind, he or she would also think so he's off to the supermarket.

    An apple a day keeps the doctor away is the correct idiom. :)
     

    Aidanr444

    Senior Member
    English - UK (Scotland)
    Hi lingkky

    This well-known phrase is usually said, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away", because in this word order it scans and rhymes.

    Using "the" here doesn't make the doctor specific, it makes it more general.
    In this case it refers to any doctor, or all doctors.
    "The" is often used to refer to things in general.

    In the same way as in the following, "we go there in the summer", "pay the taxman", "we are the people of", "he is afraid of the dark". If you said, "a light in a darkness" it would be unusual.

    This dictionary entry lists uses for the. There are many examples of situations where the is used to refer to things in a general way rather than being a specific instance of that thing.




     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Oxford lists the phrase as an "apple idiom".
    However, it does not appear in The Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, but only in The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    'The doctor' here is a generic expression, meaning any medical practitioner. Therefore the plural is not appropriate, because the phrase already covers the whole class.
    This is a standard usage in English grammar.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    It is not the only thing we say that way, though. It is a regular usage; for example:

    "The politician who never made a mistake never made a decision" (John Major).
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    It is not the only thing we say that way, though. It is a regular usage; for example:

    "The politician who never made a mistake never made a decision" (John Major).
    I didn't say it wasn't regular usage.;) My point is that if we were to use 'doctors' in the general sense (all/any doctors) in this phrase it would sound odd because we don't say it that way, not because it differs from 'regular usage' ('the doctor', in this case).
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The original question, though, is: 'Why do we say it that way?'
    My question is
    Why is the article 'the" added in the sentence above?
    Is doctor a specific noun in the sentence?
    The answer is that English regularly uses the definite article with the singular of the noun to express a generic concept.

    Another example is 'The elephant never forgets'. This is not about a specific elephant, just as John Major was not talking about a specific politician.
     
    Last edited:

    lingkky

    Senior Member
    chinese
    Can I say something like this

    "The dog has four legs. "

    Is it same as "A dog has four legs" ?
     

    lingkky

    Senior Member
    chinese
    Yes.

    It conveys the same information, but we would use the definite article in a different context: either when speaking of the dog as a biological species, or when referring to a particular dog.
    I cannot understand why "the dog " cannot be used to show a generic expression but "the doctor " does.
    May I know why?
    Do people say "The dog has four legs " instead of "A dog of four legs. " to show a generic expression? (not to a specific dog)
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I cannot understand why "the dog " cannot be used to show a generic expression but "the doctor " does.
    I have just said that it can be so used:
    we would use the definite article in a different context: either when speaking of the dog as a biological species, or when referring to a particular dog.
    For example: 'The dog has four legs, the penguin has two'.
     
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