Generic references that have (noun of noun) structure

One Heart

Senior Member
Egyptian Arabic
Choosing the right article in generic contexts in English may be difficult for second language learners, like me. Here are some examples for generic contexts:
a. A cat has four legs. indefinite generic
b. The cat has four legs. definite generic
c. Ø Cats have four legs. indefinite generic

I don't know if definite/indefinite generic contexts can have these structures:

Definite
The Noun of Noun
or
The Noun's Noun
or
The Noun Noun (e.g. The English teacher)

Indefinite
A/ØNoun of Noun
or
A/ØNoun's Noun
or
The Noun Noun (e.g. An/Ø English teacher)


Would you please tell me if these definite generic contexts can have such structures? It is difficult for me to come with any generic context that has such a structure.
 
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    I can think of examples for the first two definite structures:

    The eyes of cats are specially adapted to see in the dark.
    The cat's eyes are specially adapted to see in the dark.


    I'm not sure about the Indefinite. Here are a few possibilities:

    A tincture of iodine may be used to prevent infection.
    A cat's paw has tendons that can extend or retract the claws in an instant.
     

    One Heart

    Senior Member
    Egyptian Arabic
    Thank you so much for these examples.

    The eyes of cats are specially adapted to see in the dark.
    In light of this example, I think that we can only use the plural 'cats' or the singular 'a cat' to give the generic reading. If we use the cat, then it is no more generic. It refers to a specific and definite cat. Right?
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    It depends on the context. If there were a specific species of cat mentioned earlier it could be referring back to that generic group.

    "Cheetahs are the fastest felines on earth.... (more text)... The body of the cat is specifically designed for speed."

    In this context it doesn't refer to a single, specific cat but to the species.
     

    One Heart

    Senior Member
    Egyptian Arabic
    Yes, you are right. It depends on the context.

    I am interested to see if generic contexts can have The Noun Noun structure.

    If I want to talk generally about history teachers (I don't have anyone in mind), is 'history teacher' in the following sentence generic?

    The history teacher in Syria gets 1500 dollars monthly.

    I feel that we should use 'teachers' or 'A history teacher'.
    If not, do you have other examples that have the same structure and have generic meaning?
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I agree with you in that context. Again, it depends entirely on context.

    Here's an example that uses "The (noun) (noun)" when speaking about a generic person representing all similar people:

    http://nplusonemag.com/obama
    The independent farmer lives on in the national imagination, but industrial farming has rendered him marginal both politically and socially.

    [edit] Oops, that's (adjective) (noun). Let me try again. Looking...

    Here is one that is closer to your context:

    http://www.jstor.org/pss/804888
    "The English teacher of today, the typical, the genuine English teacher, finds himself between the horns of a dilemma; between the devil and the deep blue sea, or to be appropriately allusive, between Scylla and Charybdis."
     
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