cross <a> line

Phoebe1200

Senior Member
Russian-Russia
Game Shakers, TV series

Hudson: DoubleG, can I get a pic of your armpit?
DoubleG (holds him off with his hand): You're about to cross a line, son!

I thought that the set phrase was "cross the line".
 
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'Cross the line' is appropriate for winning a race, where it's a definite, fixed line. For threats, the line is temporary: someone draws a line in the sand, so you are warned not to cross the line. I used 'the' just then because I had previously mentioned the line, but without that, 'cross a line' suggests there is a line in the sand, not yet mentioned, but it's an implied threat.
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    'Cross the line' is appropriate for winning a race, where it's a definite, fixed line. For threats, the line is temporary: someone draws a line in the sand, so you are warned not to cross the line. I used 'the' just then because I had previously mentioned the line, but without that, 'cross a line' suggests there is a line in the sand, not yet mentioned, but it's an implied threat.
    Sorry, I'm afraid I don't understand.:(
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    When horses or runners compete in a race, they win when they are the first to cross the line at the end of the racecourse. This is sometimes used as a metaphor: the deal is close to crossing the line.

    More commonly, the metaphor is of an invisible line that you shouldn't cross, a border between what is acceptable and what is not. Unlike the end of a race, this border may be hard to see, hard to understand, or variable. There might be a line here, a line there. What is acceptable behaviour for one person might not be for another. So there is perhaps no definite line, only 'a line' which you should not cross. So 'cross a line' in the original quote is saying "you might not realize it, but there is a line here, and you are about to cross it".

    This line is sometimes established as we go along. If you call me an idiot three times, I might take it, but if you call me an idiot one more time I'll get angry. I 'draw a line in the sand'. If you cross this line, well . . . something happens. It sets a warning or a threat.
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thanks, everyone.:)
    When horses or runners compete in a race, they win when they are the first to cross the line at the end of the racecourse. This is sometimes used as a metaphor: the deal is close to crossing the line.

    More commonly, the metaphor is of an invisible line that you shouldn't cross, a border between what is acceptable and what is not. Unlike the end of a race, this border may be hard to see, hard to understand, or variable. There might be a line here, a line there. What is acceptable behaviour for one person might not be for another. So there is perhaps no definite line, only 'a line' which you should not cross. So 'cross a line' in the original quote is saying "you might not realize it, but there is a line here, and you are about to cross it".

    This line is sometimes established as we go along. If you call me an idiot three times, I might take it, but if you call me an idiot one more time I'll get angry. I 'draw a line in the sand'. If you cross this line, well . . . something happens. It sets a warning or a threat.
    Thank you. Now I understand.:thumbsup::)

    Could the OP have been used with "the"?
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    Hudson: DoubleG, can I get a pic of your armpit?
    DoubleG (holds him off with his hand): You're about to cross a line, son!

    I thought that the set phrase was "cross the line".
    Could the OP have been used with "the"?
    DoubleG uses "a" for a reason. DoubleG is using the metaphor (cross the line = do something offensive) but he is telling Hudson there is a line there that Hudson doesn't know about...and is about to cross.

    There is more than one (metaphorical) "line", because there is more than one societal rule a person should not break.
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thank you, Dojibear.:)

    But how do I know when to use "a" or "the" with this phrase? I'm asking generally. Any guidance?
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    You have to think using the metaphor. Apply the normal "a/the" rules to that. If is a line everyone (speaker and listeners) knows about, "the" is normal. In a few cases some other word works better. For example:

    Am I crossing some line here? Is there some "do not" rule I don't know about?
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thank you.
    But I'm actually confused a bit and can't fully understand when to use "a" or "the".:(
    The following are examples from dictionaries.

    She looked at me sadly, and I knew I had crossed the line.
    I can tolerate a lot, but they really crossed the line when they broke the window.
    You can’t take my new girlfriend out for coffee! That’s crossing the line.
    The student crossed the line when he answered his mobile phone in class. This angered his teacher.

    Could "a" have been used in the above examples?
     

    Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    "The" sounds the natural choice in all of them.

    Maybe "a" could work in the first, because it sounds as if he hadn't realised there was a line.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Those are all examples of the "set phrase" where the context makes it pretty clear on what basis the line was drawn, so the line is specified - except for the first.
    2 a line referring to what is tolerated
    3 a line with regard to what i s shared by friends
    4 a line regarding angering the teacher.

    1 If the speaker does not know why she looked sad, then "a" might be more appropriate - if the speaker knew what the line was, then "the" would be better.
     
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