An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

scarlett_dream

Senior Member
Russian
Why do they say THE doctor here? They don't mean any doctor in particular. May be they refer to a category of professions?
 
  • Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    We often use the definite article with professions even though we are not referring to a specific individual:

    "The pipes are leaking -- I'd better call the plumber."
    "You look really sick. You ought to see the doctor right away!"

    ... and so on.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Scarlett

    You have asked two questions today about when to include the definite article.

    The unfortunate answer is we say some things just because that's the way we say them.

    Moreover, you will often find differences between American English and British English.

    Sometimes, trying to define a "rule" for things is more difficult that just learning through usage.

    In your example here, it would be just as natural to say "call a plumber." And, just to complicate matters, I have found that some people, as part of their speech patterns, tend to habitually use "the" as in "the lawyer," "the mechanic," etc. for non-specific objects, instead of using the indefinite article.

    Another example is "police," which you will see sometimes with the definite article and sometimes without.

    Good luck.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The plumber and the doctor imply that the speaker, or the listener, has one specific "definite" regular plumber and doctor.

    Calling the police implies that the speaker has one specific "definite" regular police force that he usually calls on in an emergency.

    I don't think these are irrational assumptions.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    We often use the definite article with professions even though we are not referring to a specific individual:

    "The pipes are leaking -- I'd better call the plumber."
    "You look really sick. You ought to see the doctor right away!"

    ... and so on.
    The plumber and the doctor imply that the speaker, or the listener, has one specific "definite" regular plumber and doctor.

    .
    Is this a BrE AmE difference?
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I don't know. I had to think about it for a bit. "Call a doctor" would mean, to me, call any doctor. In most cases, "call the doctor" would mean that the speaker and/or the listener has a particular doctor in mind.

    If I were in a hospital room and the person I was visiting suddenly took a turn for the worse I might say: "Get the nurse". I might not know any particular nurse and I wouldn't be referring to a specific nurse.

    I don't know that it's clear-cut for me.
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Why do they say THE doctor here? They don't mean any doctor in particular. May be they refer to a category of professions?
    The doctor is simply a metaphor for sickness. Translating we get "An apple a day keeps sickness away.." Be it a true, or a false statement.

    GF..
     

    Fabulist

    Banned
    American English
    Keep in mind that "An apple a day . . . " is an old proverb originating at a time when most English speakers lived in the countryside or in villages where, for practical purposes, only one physician (if any) was available: he wasn't just a doctor among many, he was the doctor who treated everyone within the geographic area of his practice. If one needed medical care, one just said, "Get the doctor." It was not necessary to specify which doctor by name, nor did it make sense to say, "Get a [unspecified, i.e., any] doctor," because there was no real alternative to the doctor. So if eating an apple was an efficacious general prophylactic, it kept the doctor, not all the doctors or any doctor or a doctor away.

    It's similar, then, to "call the police" or "call the fire department." At any one geographic site, only one police force and one fire department has jurisdiction. One could say "call a policeman," since there could be more than one.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    If I were in a hospital room and the person I was visiting suddenly took a turn for the worse I might say: "Get the nurse". I might not know any particular nurse and I wouldn't be referring to a specific nurse.
    On the other hand, you would get THE closest nurse, or one of THE nurses currently on duty in that ward/floor, or THE nurse who comes when you yell "Nurse!". You wouldn't walk past all those nurses, get in your car, drive to a random town, and start looking for A totally non-specific nurse. ;)
     
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