(The) glasses she gave me were beautiful

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nkspb

Member
Hello.
Please, help, I am utterly confused again..

1) I was told that saying "The glasses she gave me were beatiful" requires some previous knowledge of the listener about them.

Is it always the case? Because I also heard that such constructions justify the definite article, even if the speaker knows nothing of what is being told.

2) Will it be grammatically corect to say if the listener doesn't know anything about those glasses:

"Glasses she gave me were beatiful. They were really nice"?

Moreover, is such a construction gramatically correct for the first mention?

Thanks.
 
  • Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    What you were told is not quite right - you need to identify the specific items you're talking about either previously or in the sentence itself. Here you say that it's the glasses she gave you, so "the" is fine. And in fact required - your second alternative doesn't work.
     

    Franco-filly

    Senior Member
    English - Southern England
    If the listener did not know about the glasses, the speaker would have said something like “She gave me some beautiful glasses”

    But if the speaker had told the listener earlier “My friend bought me some glasses for my birthday” then he/she could later say “The glasses.. (i.e. the ones I mentioned earlier) were beautiful”
    You cannot simply remove the article.
     

    cando

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I think it is very misleading and confusing to tell students that "the" requires 'prior knowledge'. The question of when to use "the" or "a" can be explained much more simply (although it does have some subtleties and is always difficult at first for speakers of languages that have no articles at all or different usages). The clue is in the grammatical names:

    "The" is the definite article and "a"/"an" is the indefinite article.

    "The" is used when talking about something specific, definite, particular, the only example of something ... (In the example given, "the glasses" indicates the specific glasses that this person has given me).

    "A" is used when talking about something that is indefinite, a non-specific example of its type, any one of its kind ... ("a glass she gave me" indicates one unspecified glass she gave me, which could be one of a number or one of many things she has given me. If I said "the glass she gave me" that would indicate that it was the only one she gave me).

    Using no article at all gives a sense of something plural and indefinite, or generic and abstract. ("glasses she gave me" indicates many, all or any glasses she may have given me at any time. Saying "glasses are beautiful" indicates that you think all glasses, or glasses in general are beautiful).
     

    nkspb

    Member
    Thanks for the answers.

    My problem is that I don't understand if using zero article with plural in sentences where it looks like a general reference, can be also done when refering to something for the first time.

    Like in here:

    "I saw cars near that house. The cars were nice"

    Is it correct? Or maybe only "some cars" should be used?

    2) "Events were astonishing. The events were entertaining"

    If the listener has no idea of the event I talk about, can the first sentence grammatically be the first mention of those events?

    Thanks.
     

    cando

    Senior Member
    English - British
    As I tried to say, please forget about the whole idea of whether something is mentioned for the first time or not. I think that is misleading advice about how English works. You can mention something for the first time and talk about it in a definite, indefinite or generic way according to context and intention. So your sentences are grammatically correct (NB. typo: "astonishing"). A native speaker would be more likely to say "I saw cars near the house. They were nice" rather than repeat the subject, but the thought pattern is completely acceptable: You saw (some, any, unspecified examples of) cars near the house and you thought that these (the specific ones just referred to) were nice. You could also say "The cars I saw near the house were nice", indicating that the cars you mean are specific ones that you saw near the house, with no need to introduce them first.
     

    nkspb

    Member
    Cando, thanks again! I am sorry, I have completely messed it all up in my head and that's why I seem to ask so many questions about the same thing. :)
    Just to make it clear (I suggest not to look at how natural it sounds :)):

    "Events were astonishing. The events were nice"

    means

    1) Events generally were astonishing. The events the listener knows about were nice.

    2) The first mention for the events the listener didn't hear about. Those were nice.

    Both meanings are correct however people tend to interpret such constructions as #1.

    Please, tell me, is my opinion right? Thanks.
     

    cando

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Cando, thanks again! I am sorry, I have completely messed it all up in my head and that's why I seem to ask so many questions about the same thing. :)
    Just to make it clear (I suggest not to look at how natural it sounds :)):

    "Events were astonishing. The events were nice"

    means

    1) Events generally were astonishing. The events the listener knows about were nice.

    2) The first mention for the events the listener didn't hear about. Those were nice.

    Both meanings are correct however people tend to interpret such constructions as #1.

    Please, tell me, is my opinion right? Thanks.
    You are right in these instances. The use of "the" in the second phrase picks up on the subject introduced in first phrase. However, I don't want to confuse you further, but in order to grasp the whole topic better, really try to get away completely in your mind from "what the listener knows or doesn't know already". The issue is what you are talking about. Is it something definite, specific and particular ("the"), or something indefinite, generic and non-specific, one of many possibles. That's what guides most usages of definite or indefinite articles.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Previous mention is only one of the ways something can be definitely known. We use 'the' in a variety of situations, including:

    (1) Things like the sun, the moon, and the stars. Everyone knows them.
    (2) When you talk about a house, you can immediately talk about the doors and the walls. Everyone knows every house has doors and walls.
    (3) Something in front of you both: if you're both looking at a building, you can say 'the flag is at half mast'. Not every building has a flag, but if you can see that this one has, and you know the other person can also see it, then you can say 'the flag' for something that is already known.
    (4) The thing you or I have already mentioned in this conversation. This is the basic 'grammatical' use of 'the'.
    (5) The thing I am about to identify now, as with a relative clause or some other identifier: the glasses she gave me yesterday; the green book on the top shelf; the car coming towards us; etc.

    So your original question was about how usage (5) relates to usage (4). We're trying to show that there is actually a variety of ways something can be definite, and the listener's prior knowledge can come from knowledge about the world as well as prior conversation.
     

    cando

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I can say: "I went for a walk in the field behind my house today". The listener does not need any prior knowledge of my house and its surroundings. As soon as I say "the field behind my house" they know that there is a field behind my house; that there is only one field behind my house; and it is this field that I am talking about. I make the object of my sentence definite and specific by using the definite article. If I said: "I went for a walk in a field behind my house today", the listener would know that there is at least one field behind my house; there may or may not be other fields behind my house; I am talking about one unspecified field. I leave the object of my sentence indefinite by using the indefinite article. Prior knowledge is not necessarily the issue. Although in some contexts it does indeed apply, it is not the guiding principle.
     

    nkspb

    Member
    that there is only one field behind my house;
    Is it always the case? From what I know, the definite article specifies something but doesn't tell that this is the only instance.

    I thought saying "I was walking on the square near my house" means that I talk about specific one, but doesn't mean it's the only square there, so could be others.
     

    Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    Is it always the case? From what I know, the definite article specifies something but doesn't tell that this is the only instance.

    I thought saying "I was walking on the square near my house" means that I talk about specific one, but doesn't mean it's the only square there, so could be others.
    "I was walking on the square near my house" implies that there is only one square near your house.

    If there is more than one, you would need to say "I was walking on a square near my house" or "I was walking on one of the squares near my house."
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    nkspb - I can understand why this is so difficult. The reason is that native speakers do not use rules to decide what article to use. They generalise from hearing countless examples in context. Children make mistakes but, over time, it becomes second nature.

    When you are learning a language purely from a set of rules it becomes an almost impossible feat of memory. I suggest reading and listening as much as possible and simply noticing and absorbing what happens without trying to turn it into a formula. Try to develop a feeling for what is right.


    To show how difficult it is to formulate rules, here are some the possibilities:

    1. The cars are outside the house. ----> Cars that we know about or expect are there.

    2. Some cars are outside the house. ----> We observe that there are cars. We don't know anything about them or why they are there.

    3a. Cars are outside the house. ----> In Yorkshire, England, this would probably mean the same as 1.

    3b. Cars are outside the house. ----> In 'standard' English this is probably the answer to the question "What's outside the house?"

    Now, I could go through all of those again and find exceptions - simply by changing the context. The clue to English that is so often forgotten is that it is a context-dependent language. In general, there are no rules for isolated sentences.

    I hope this doesn't sound too discouraging but you did ask. This was my best try at an answer. My recipe for learning is read and listen! Learn the basic rules and then, once learned, forget them.

    Disclaimer

    I'm expressing a purely personal opinion.
     
    Last edited:

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    I don't want to confuse you further, but in order to grasp the whole topic better, really try to get away completely in your mind from "what the listener knows or doesn't know already".
    Yes. I've been speaking English for well over fifty years now, and I never heard of that "rule" about prior knowledge until I joined this forum a couple years ago.
     
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