a / the cat's toy (how many toys does the cat have?)

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Leafka

Senior Member
Polish
Hi,

I've thought of such a sentence: 'They played with a cat's toy.' Does the sentence kind of indicate this cat has / had one toy only?
I am asking the question, because I have learned that, for example, the phrase the cat's toy in a sentence like 'They hid the cat's toy' indicates the animal has / had one toy only. I'm trying to understand if it's the that conveys the meaning of a single item, 'sticking' to both cat and toy? Or, maybe, a phrase with a would work the same way, and to indicate 'one of toys of a cat' I should say 'a cat toy'?
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hello Leafka

    A cat's toy can have two quite different meanings:

    (a) [a cat]'s toy: the/a toy belonging to a particular cat.
    (b) a [cat's toy]: a toy of a type suitable for cats in general.

    Similarly, the cat's toy can have two meanings:
    (c) [the cat]'s toy: the/a toy belonging to the particular cat.
    (d) the [cat's toy]: the toy of a type suitable for cats in general.

    In your sentence: 'They played with a cat's toy.', the most likely meaning is (b). But it could also suggest that the toy they played with belonged to a particular cat ie (a). If the meaning is (a) the sentence does not tell us whether the cat concerned has one or more than one toy.

    I have learned that, for example, the phrase the cat's toy in a sentence like 'They hid the cat's toy' indicates the animal has / had one toy only.
    That seems wrong to me. Either the meaning is (c) in which case there is only one cat; or the meaning is (d) in which case there is only one toy. In neither interpretation is there any suggestion on the lines "the cat has only one toy".
     
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