a songbird, typically having a/the brown back

VicNicSor

Banned
Russian
E.g., such a sentence:

thrush
a small or medium-sized songbird, typically having a brown back, spotted breast, and loud song
OED

1) The indefinite article refers not only to "back", but to "breast" and "song".
2) "A" could be replaced by "the" here (and in similar definitions) with the same meaning.

Am I right?
Thanks.
 
  • VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Thank you.

    Then I have a question.
    Imagine, the definition doesn't describe the body parts, but just informs of their presence in the bird:
    a small or medium-sized songbird, typically having the/a back, breast, and tail
    (Imagine, some birds don't have these body parts:))
    Would using "the" be correct here?
     
    Last edited:

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    "The brown back" - there is only one brown back and the thrush has it. Nothing else in the universe has a brown back. :cross: Obviously false.
    "A brown back" - there are many brown backs and the thrush has one of them. :tick: True.
     

    Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    No, we would still use "a," just as we would describe you as (presumably) having two eyes and a nose.

    [Cross-posted with Myridon]
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Then I have a question.

    Imagine, the definition doesn't describe the body parts, but just informs of their presence in the bird:
    a small or medium-sized songbird, typically having the/a back, breast, and tail

    Would using of "the" be correct here?
    No. See above. Same logic applies.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm just often confused as to whether I can use "the" in generic meaning or not in a case.
    The thrush has a brown back.
    In this sentence, the word the is used in a special sense which is, I think, restricted to species of animals and plants, to signal that the species is meant.
    "Back" is not a species of animals or plants!
     
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