A/The camel is the ship of the desert.

cmnk

Senior Member
Malayalam
1. 'A camel is the ship of the desert.'
2. 'The camel is the ship of the desert'.
Is there any difference in the meanings of the above sentences? I have learnt that definite and indefinite articles can be used before singular count nouns to generalize them.
Thanks in advance.
 
  • Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Although nothing in theory prevents both sentences from being correct, we would never use no.1. This is because we try to balance the two halves of such semi-proverbial statements: The camel is the ship of the desert. :tick:
     

    karlalou

    Banned
    母国語:日本語
    I see. So, maybe if it's "A camel is an animal that is used to travel through the desert", does it work?
     

    Erebos12345

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    I see. So, maybe if it's "A camel is an animal that is used to travel through the desert", does it work?
    Sounds fine. Although "the camel is an animal..." works for me as well.

    Personally, the former sounds more like a dictionary definition and the latter sounds more like a nature documentary. Same sentiment for the two sentences in the OP. :D
     

    karlalou

    Banned
    母国語:日本語
    Thank you, Erebos12345. :)
    I think I can kind of see that.

    The camel is the ...
    The camel is a ...
    A camel is a ...

    But if it's "A camel is the ship of the desert", because this method is to talk about something in general by taking one of them as an example, it's talking about a single thing all the same, so ...I can't really tell, but something is out of balance.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    We tend to use the definite article when talking about a species in general.
    • The kangaroo is a marsupial.
    • The lion is called "the king of the jungle."
    • The American "moose" is called an "elk" in Europe.
    • etc.
    See: The dog is a friendly animal.

    Nit-pickingly, I would say "The camel is called 'the ship of the desert.'"

    And, if there's some reason to identify the camel as an animal, I would use "mammal" to be precise.
     

    karlalou

    Banned
    母国語:日本語
    Thank you, sdgraham. :)
    the familiar saying "the dog is man's best friend."
    'A' for generalizations is a tricky one, but there seems to be the right occasions.

    M. Swan of Practical English Usage has two examples (§68.2):
    A baby deer can stand as soon as it's born.
    A child needs plenty of love
    .

    It says 'a' means 'any'.
    And another possibility is "Camels are the ~".
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Articles don't have inherent lexical meaning, but they do conceptualize generic nouns in different ways.

    The definite article makes prototypical reference; it presents the noun as a prototype: something or someone that illustrates the typical member of its class. In The camel is the ship of the desert, "the camel" represents all camels, and so what's said about this camel applies to any camel.

    The indefinite article approaches things from a different angle: it focuses on the definition of the noun in question; what's said about the noun defines the noun. It follows that, whenever some sort of definition is involved, the indefinite article can be used. In A camel is the ship of the desert, what the speaker says about the camel (that it is "the ship of the desert") defines the camel, which means that the definition refers to an inherent characteristic of the camel. Accordingly, if you want to cross the desert, any camel will do, because the definition applies to all camels.

    In our example, it doesn't matter if we present the concept of "camel" as a prototype or as a definition; the message is viable either way. But context matters. We can say The camel is becoming extinct because the environmental conditions that lead to the "extinction" of camels apply to all camels. However, I couldn't really say A camel is becoming extinct because "becoming extinct" is not a definition and therefore not an inherent characteristic of "camel."
     
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    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Thank you, sdgraham. :)

    'A' for generalizations is a tricky one, but there seems to be the right occasions.

    M. Swan of Practical English Usage has two examples (§68.2):
    A baby deer can stand as soon as it's born.
    A child needs plenty of love
    .

    It says 'a' means 'any'.
    And another possibility is "Camels are the ~".
    >>A baby deer can stand as soon as it's born.
    A child needs plenty of love
    .<<

    Neither of these is a general reference to a species.
     

    karlalou

    Banned
    母国語:日本語
    Thank you, SevenDays, sdgraham.
    "becoming extinct" is not a definition and therefore not an inherent characteristic of "camel."
    A baby deer can stand as soon as it's born. A child needs plenty of love.
    Neither of these is a general reference to a species.
    The camel is and A camel is.
    Both are singular. Both are grammatical. But when talking about an entire species, natives want to say "The". Though logically, it doesn't really matter when the predicate is the definition of the noun just like the OP's case. (My grammar book also happens to mention the same 'extinct' example though your explanation is much easier to understand.)

    Both are taking one of them as an example.
    "A camel" is to define the subject, so it's good for dictionary definitions. That is when the predicate is also general idea, isn't it? On the other hand, "The camel" can be also used to say something happening to them. Plus "The + singular noun" is to talk about a whole species, so it's good for scientific reports.
     

    B. R. Kumawat

    New Member
    Hindi
    Grammar is not tough or unclear but it is made so by its fathers. If one father says something unclear, it becomes the duty of the subsequents to sustain the previous ideology.
    "The camel is the ship of desert"
    This sentence is the copy of the sentence
    " The dog is the faithful animal."
    Here " The camel " is nothing but pedantic.
    " A camel" shows the generic attribute and so it's right. Please see this explanation.
    Man is mortal.
    Dog is faithful.
    Put article a/an to show the generic attitude or don't apply any article. Even than the generic attitude is attributed.
    ' The' in such cases is applied only if you're are talking or discussing about a particular animal or thing.
     

    pachanga7

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Well put, SevenDays!

    I can imagine either being used. “The camel” sounds formal and removed, perhaps even pedantic as BR Kumawat says, but appropriate for some contexts such as a BBC documentary.

    When I hear “A camel is the ship of the desert” in my mind’s eye I see and hear a tough, sunburnt camel driver expounding to a tourist or other newcomer on the value of his animals. The article “a” seems to make it more specific and therefore personal. This guy knows his herd. Using “a camel” is his daily reality.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    "The camel is the ship of desert"
    This sentence is the copy of the sentence
    " The dog is the faithful animal."
    I don't think so, unless you mean:
    A: "Here is a cat and a dog. Which one is the faithful animal?"
    B: "The dog is the faithful animal." :tick:
    A: "Here is an elephant and a camel. Which one is the ship of the desert?"
    B: "The camel is the ship of desert.":tick:
    ' The' in such cases is applied only if you're are talking or discussing about a particular animal or thing.
    This is not so.
    " A camel" shows the generic attribute and so it's right.
    "A camel" approximates to "an example of a camel" or "one from among many camels" or "one camel".
    In The camel is the ship of the desert, "the camel" represents all camels, and so what's said about this camel applies to any camel.
    :thumbsup:
     
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