Bugs are usually not the fault of the computer/computers.

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jhelum

New Member
Chinese - China
Hi everyone,

I know the word "the" is often used as the definite article before nouns to refer to specific or particular things, but is it normal to use "the" before a noun in its singular form to refer to its own kind in general? Like in the sentences below:

"Bugs are usually not the fault of the computer."
"World War I served as a testbed for the use of the airplane as a weapon."

If those sentences are correct, then is it ok to say "The differences between the computer and the airplane are...", or should it be "
The differences between computers and airplanes are...", or "The differences between a computer and an airplane are..."?
 
  • EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I would say the use of the definite article in the first two sentences (which are lifted from Wikipedia's entries for Computer and Airplane respectively) is correct.

    Those nouns are called generic nouns, and you can find in previous discussions that posters agree that 'the' may be used with a singular noun to indicate that quality (
    see generic noun and generic nouns).

    I also found the following in the Wiki entry Generic Mood:
    English has no means of morphologically distinguishing a gnomic aspect [i.e. a generic mood]; however, a generic reference is generally understood to convey an equivalent meaning. Use of the definite article the or a demonstrative determiner usually implies specific individuals, as in "the car he owns is fast", "the cars he owns are fast", or "those rabbits are fast", whereas omitting the definite article or other determiner in the plural creates a generic reference: "rabbits are fast" describes rabbits in general. However, the definite article may also be used in the singular for classes of nouns, as in "The giraffe is the tallest land mammal living today", which does not refer to any specific giraffe, but to giraffes in general.
    If those sentences are correct, then is it ok to say "The differences between the computer and the airplane are...", or should it be "The differences between computers and airplanes are...", or "The differences between a computer and an airplane are..."?
    In my opinion, all your suggestions are correct. I think the more likely choice would be to use the indefinite article, as in your last fragment.
     
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