(The) black piano

TomasD

Senior Member
Croatia-Croatian
Hi Forumites,

I would like to see if I have a better grasp of article use. The context: I enter a house. There is a piano in the foyer and in each of these sentences it is introduced for the first first time.

"Once I was inside the foyer, I looked around. Everything screamed wealth. Standing in the foyer, a black piano gave away the artistic pretensions of the family."
"Once I was inside the foyer, I looked around. A black piano in the middle of the foyer gave away the artistic pretensions of the family."

As you can see, I am using "a black piano" in both cases, because, I am introducing it. I am sure it's right.

But, but but . . . And this is my question:

"Once I was inside the vestibule, I looked around. The black piano [that stood] in the middle of the foyer gave away the artistic pretensions of the family."

[That stood] is optional. Is the definite article okay in that example? I think so. It answers the question: which black piano? A-ha! The one in the middle of the foyer.

I would really like to see how an English speaker thinks about this.

Thanks,
Tomas
 
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  • Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    The use of the article tends to imply in a conventionalized way that it is natural for the thing to be there, or that the reader may expect it to be there or might even already know that it is there. So:

    "The black piano in the foyer gave away their artistic pretensions." :thumbsup:
    "The alligator in the foyer tossed its head and grinned." :thumbsdown::eek: What?! There was an alligator in the foyer?!​
     

    TomasD

    Senior Member
    Croatia-Croatian
    The use of the article tends to imply in a conventionalized way that it is natural for the thing to be there, or that the reader may expect it to be there or might even already know that it is there. So:
    Thank you, that was my feeling exactly! But with that example, however, very few homes actually have pianos, in the foyer or anywhere else. I guess what you are trying to say is: it is not unnatural to expect a piano, black or whatever colour, in the foyer, but not an alligator . . . not even in Florida. Yes?
     
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    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    "Once I was inside the vestibule, I looked around. The black piano [that stood] in the middle of the foyer gave away the artistic pretensions of the family."

    [That stood] is optional. Is the definite article okay in that example? I think so. It answers the question: which black piano? A-ha! The one in the middle of the foyer.
    If you mean that "the implied" defining clause ("that stood") requires the definite article, I'd say no, not in this case. It doesn't differ from the first two sentences with "a".
    The use of the article tends to imply in a conventionalized way that it is natural for the thing to be there, or that the reader may expect it to be there or might even already know that it is there. So:

    "The black piano in the foyer gave away their artistic pretensions." :thumbsup:
    Is a piano in (the foyer of) a house is something necessarily expected by a visitor? It's just if I saw the definite article in such a context I'd think the piano is already familiar to the speaker.
     
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    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    It also depends on the literary form. Novels often begin in the middle of things, dropping you into a situation. The opening words of a novel could be 'It was three hours later that the alligator returned for him.' The reader just thinks, okay, we have an alligator and some history, let's see if we get a fuller explanation. Your sentences sound like they're out of a novel, where 'the' could introduce in the way 'a' can.

    Outside of this sophisticated use, one general principle is that as soon as you mention, for example, a room, you can now talk about 'the' things that are known to be there: the windows, the floor, and so on. If you enter a kitchen, you can talk about the oven. You can't talk about the piano or the dog, even though it's not unusual to find a dog in a room. Dogs, being optional, need 'a' for their first introduction.

    Another is that 'the' doesn't mean "the previously mentioned", as grammar books often seem to suggest. It means more like "the known". There are about four ways something can be known:
    (1) Previously mentioned: a piano . . . the piano.
    (2) Known to be a part: a room . . . the windows.
    (3) Known universally: the sky, the moon.
    (4) Explained at this point: the piano in the foyer.
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    You'd be wrong, then.
    There are two meanings of "foyer", but apparently Tomas meant this:
    the room in a house or apartment leading from the front door to other rooms, where things like coats and hats are kept

    Do you mean that a piano is associated with such a room in the same way an oven with a kitchen?...
     

    Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    There are two meanings of "foyer", but apparently Tomas meant this:
    the room in a house or apartment leading from the front door to other rooms, where things like coats and hats are kept

    Do you mean that a piano is associated with such a room in the same way an oven with a kitchen?...
    Not relevant.
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    I don't understand you:) First you say "not relevant", then you post pictures which prove what? That (1) a piano is not unusual in a foyer, or (2) is it a necessary element there (as an oven in a kitchen)?
     

    Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    I meant both that it is irrelevant and that you are wrong.


    < Topic drift removed. Cagey, moderator. >
     
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    TomasD

    Senior Member
    Croatia-Croatian
    < Quotation of deleted thread removed. Cagey, moderator >

    Glenfarclas explained it very well, actually. I understood it. Please let's be nice to the contributors. They are helping us free of charge. We should appreciate that.
     
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    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    The use of the article tends to imply in a conventionalized way that it is natural for the thing to be there, or that the reader may expect it to be there or might even already know that it is there. So:

    "The black piano in the foyer gave away their artistic pretensions." :thumbsup:
    "The alligator in the foyer tossed its head and grinned." :thumbsdown::eek: What?! There was an alligator in the foyer?!​
    I really love this example.

    Because I read a lot of science fiction, my familiarity with this implication is nuanced by all that reading. So, if the context is fiction and the setting is such that alligators are often found in foyers, it would then be :thumbsup: to use the second sentence above. But only if that's the nuance you are truly trying to convey. If I correctly recall, the novel Zoo City by Lauren Beukes does a great job with this sort of commonplace nuance giving the reader a taste of a world where the alligator in the foyer gives away the criminal past of the homeowner just as the black piano it's sitting atop reveals their pretensions.
     

    JAQT

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Particularly as a literary device, some authors may deviate from a rigorous rule of using "a" when introducing an object for the first time and then always using "the" thereafter to emphasize antecedence. For example, I could readily imagine some noir detective novel starting with something like "The man was dead and had been for some time." It certainly sounds better than the alternative ("A man was dead ...") and in addition adds punch to the sentence.

    I also don't think that the expectation of the reader, as to whether the object is expected to be there or not, is any indicator of when it's proper to use such a device.

    Of course, in your sample sentences about a piano in a foyer, there could be different meanings conveyed by use of "the" vs. "a". For example, The piano in the foyer announced the artistic pretensions of the family might imply that the mere existence of the piano leads to the conclusion of artistic pretensions, quite apart from any specific location of the piano (i.e., in the foyer or elsewhere). On the other hand A piano in the foyer announced the artistic pretensions of the family might imply that it was the location of the piano right in the foyer that leads to the conclusion of artistic pretension.
     

    Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    I really love this example.

    Because I read a lot of science fiction, my familiarity with this implication is nuanced by all that reading. So, if the context is fiction and the setting is such that alligators are often found in foyers, it would then be :thumbsup: to use the second sentence above. But only if that's the nuance you are truly trying to convey. If I correctly recall, the novel Zoo City by Lauren Beukes does a great job with this sort of commonplace nuance giving the reader a taste of a world where the alligator in the foyer gives away the criminal past of the homeowner just as the black piano it's sitting atop reveals their pretensions.
    Right. You can also use the second type of sentence if your intention is to be coy or to playfully pretend to have a blasé attitude about something surprising. (Along the same lines as in "Oh, I didn't get much when I went out shopping. Just, you know, a new Mercedes.")
     
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