wholeness the definite article gives off

HSS

Senior Member
Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
I was thinking of a sense of wholeness the definite article may impart when it is capped on a plural noun. Oftentimes it provides you with the sense the speaker is referring to all the entities, and so school grammar books here proclaim 'the + plural noun' covers all in the group. But is it really so? In [1] the books may very well be the two books he/she ordered from Amazon, but how about [2]? It's implausible she has the whole fifty books in one purse. So it would be natural the books refers to some of the books.

Am I right???

[Both of them my renditions]
[1] I ordered two books from Amazon, and they arrived yesterday. I have the books in my purse. Would you like to take a look?
[2] I ordered fifty books from Amazon, and they arrived yesterday. I have the books in my purse. Would you like to take a look?
 
  • Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    So it would be natural the books refers to some of the books.
    I disagree. Sentence 2 implies that she has a huge purse.

    If she meant she had some of them in her purse, she would say so. I have some of them in my purse/handbag.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I see this as a question of logic, not language. You can't fit fifty books into a purse. In 2), "The books are in the basement" would refer to all fifty, and there would be no implausibility.
     

    Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    Yes, I agree. My reference to a large purse was meant to be a joke.:) I was making the point that the reference to "the books" following "fifty books" in the second example means all the books.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Thanks.

    How about the following then?

    [3] I ordered fifty books from Amazon, and they arrived yesterday. I was so absorbed in reading the books last night I forgot to do my homework.

    Isn't it possible some people, maybe just a few, take the books here to mean some of the books?
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    [3] I ordered fifty books from Amazon, and they arrived yesterday. I was so absorbed in reading the books last night I forgot to do my homework.

    Isn't it possible some people, maybe just a few, take the books here to mean some of the books?
    It isn't reasonable to assume that you read all of all 50 books in a few hours, but it does suggest you had all fifty in front of you and read little bits of as many of them as you could. Perhaps you read all the dust jackets.
    On the other hand, "I forgot to do my homework" sounds like a lie so maybe you are lying and saying that you did read all the books. ;)
    Making up ridiculous examples leads to ridiculous discussions. ;)
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    Please don't confuse "what makes sense" and "what a sentence means". That can be a big problem in understanding sentences others write.

    It is easy to say things that cannot happen in reality. "The traffic was slow, so I grew wings, picked up the car, and flew over it all." is a perfectly correct English sentence. So is saying I have 50 books in my purse.

    [3] I ordered fifty books from Amazon, and they arrived yesterday. I was so absorbed in reading the books last night I forgot to do my homework.

    Isn't it possible some people, maybe just a few, take the books here to mean some of the books?
    Here it is the verb ("reading") that makes a difference. "Reading" is a process. Sentence [3] says you spent time in that process. It says nothing about how much reading you did. Perhaps you read a couple chapters in three of the books. Perhaps less.

    [4] Fifty books arrived yesterday. Last night I read them.

    This sentence, using "read", states that you completed all fifty books last night.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    I just wanted to know if 'the' always imparts a sense of all-inclusiveness whether that connotation derives from what is reasonable or what it means firsthand.

    It seems it's not always that 'the + plural noun' covers all in the group.

    Here's another example:

    You have a whole lot of apples, perhaps more than a hundred, in a box. If you wanted some of them, you might say, "Pass me the apples, will ya?" (Of course, you may more likely say, "Pass me some of the apples.") Here you mean some of the apples, not the entire box of apples.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    "Pass me the apples." in your context means "Pass me the box containing the apples."
    It doesn't matter what you mean. It matters what you say. We can't read your mind.
     

    Minnesota Guy

    Senior Member
    American English - USA
    I just wanted to know if 'the' always imparts a sense of all-inclusiveness whether that connotation derives from what is reasonable or what it means firsthand.
    In general, "the" implies that the speaker has something specific in mind, which other people in the conversation also know about. In that sense, it is all-inclusive: the phrase "the apples" means all of the apples that I, the speaker, have been talking about.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Thank you, everyone.

    I wondered about the use of this 'the' with reference to the 'the' discussed on this thread. Would anyone please help see the difference? I took 'the oranges' here to be able to mean 'some of the oranges on the heap.'

    Say there are a heap of oranges in front of you. Is it idiomatic you say to someone in presence 'Would you pass me oranges?' if you want to have more than just one orange?

    Hiro
    No, what you suggest is not idiomatic in this context.

    I would say "the oranges" or "some oranges" or use a number "three oranges".
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Oh, she were saying she would say "the oranges" when she meant all of the oranges, "some oranges" when she meant some to all of the oranges, or "three oranges" when she meant three oranges, weren't she?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Oh, she were saying she would say "the oranges" when she meant all of the oranges, "some oranges" when she meant some to all of the oranges, or "three oranges" when she meant three oranges, weren't she?
    Yes, she was:).
     
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