Language Rules

Definately Fixing Alot Of Americas Grammar 1 Word At A Thyme

Language Problems: Articles (The/A/’Omission’)

with 10 comments

I’m having to revise my PhD thesis (minor corrections) and one item on the list of corrections pertains to my use of articles. The internal examiner wrote:

Page 16, line 3, should read ‘new media’, not ‘the new media’. The use of such prepositions [sic] before ‘media’ and other nouns should be reviewed throughout the thesis. Example, p. 71 ‘the TV’, ‘the magazine’, p. 76 ‘the telephone’, p. 94 ‘the tv’

Now, I didn’t think I had many problems with articles these days. I proofread a non-native friend’s MA thesis and corrected many instances of incorrect article use. I thought I had cracked it.

Apparently this is not the case. I’ve tried narrowing down my specific problem with it, and I think it concerns mainly ‘the’ vs. ‘no article (omission)’. Here are two actual examples from my thesis:

The commercial advent of the new media, especially the digital computer and the Internet, has revived popular and academic interest in Marshall McLuhan’s theory of the media.


Similar to the TV, the World Wide Web (WWW) too is defined by a high degree of remediation.

I *think* my problem is that I use ‘the’ when contrasting two or more nouns and my reasoning is that, when contrasting, you’re referring to something specific or particular and therefore, the direct article is necessary. In the above example, consider the following:

The commercial advent of the new media [as opposed to the old media], especially the digital computer and the Internet, has revived popular and academic interest in Marshall McLuhan’s theory of the media [i.e. not the cinema, not the new media].

I can see it looks odd now myself. I’d really appreciate it if someone could point me to references or articles dealing with this particular problem. I need to understand exactly what it is and why I’m getting it wrong before starting with my corrections. My thesis is 320 pages long and it will take a few days to actually read it all and correct the article situation. I can’t really afford not to understand it and then having to read it again :(

Written by lenina

2007 Jan 10 at 04:34

10 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Ummmmm…..

    I may be letting my ignorance show, but I see NO problem with the use of articles in ANY of the examples you gave. You’re talking about the concepts – which are nouns (and, even if you weren’t, the actual, physical objects you discuss (t.v., magazine) are nouns in and of themselves). Nouns take articles.

    I’ll keep checking back to see what this is all about. If *I* were reading your thesis, you’d get no complaints from me about your artical use…


    2007 Jan 10 at 16:08

  2. hm, I’m going to look into it more over the week-end as I don’t quite understand it either. Thing is, I DO have a fairly good understanding of it or so I thought, and I know when other non-native speakers use articles incorrectly as it tends to stick out like a sore thumb and just looks ‘wrong’.

    Thanks for your comment anyway – maybe I should speak to my examiner and ask him to clarify the examples (i.e. explain _why_ the use of ‘the’ is incorrect in these instances).


    2007 Jan 12 at 12:36

  3. I keep checking back – let me know what you find out, please?


    2007 Jan 13 at 11:06

  4. yep, I’ll get to the article problem once I’ve dealt with my overuse of ‘for example’ (apparently another ‘non-native’ thing. I’ve used ‘for example’ 299 times in my thesis! I need to cut those down first…


    2007 Jan 13 at 12:18

  5. The thing about both “TV” (or “television”) and “new media”, at least according to my Sprachgefuhl, is that both of them can be thought about in more or less abstract (I might even say: fetishized) ways.

    I’d say that “the television” can work with a more concrete employment of the term, one where the speaker actually has the apparatus in the living room “in mind”. “What’s on the television tonight?” (Although I suspect more commonly: “what’s on TV tonight?” — not thinking of the set, but probably of the TV guide.) On the other hand: “television has changed the way we see ourselves.” In this sentence the cause of the change is not just “the” apparatus (or a single television set) but the whole technology, and its associated practices, both in the realms of production and consumption.

    I think there is a certain amount of flexibility here, which is to say, my “concreteness” critierion mustn’t be the definitive one.

    But as a native speaker, I can certainly say that I find “similar to the TV, the World Wide Web too is defined by…” ungrammatical, to some degree. It’s funny, because I don’t think I would have called “similar to the television…” (or at least “like the television…”) ungrammatical. I suppose I associate “TV” much more closely with the apparatus; it doesn’t seem to include the associated practices I mentioned above.

    “Media” is interesting because many English speakers habitually forget that it is the plural of “medium”, even if that connection is something that they “know”, ie. could tell you if you asked them. I suspect that this forgetting might be at the bottom of your examiner picking out “the new media” for correction. It is much easier to say “the commercial advent of new media” when you think that “new media” refers to a single, undifferentiated mass (like rice).

    But again, I don’t think this decides the matter. If I could psychologize just a little bit further, I’d suspect that your examiner has gotten a subtle impression of non-nativeness about your writing and has tried to pick out offending instances, but has mixed some not-so-ungrammatical examples with the more obvious ones. The thing is it’s much easier for a native speaker to say that a text gives an impression of ungrammaticality — which is often a matter of patterning, and hence only cumulatively perceived — than to isolate the causes of that impression.

    I know that this is probably less clear-cut than you need at this stage, but I’m not sure that these things can be easily defined.


    2007 Jan 27 at 04:31

  6. A few more thoughts:

    “The cane-toad invaded Queensland.” One cane-toad standing in for many — or are we Platonists, talking about the species as if it were a definite existent?

    “The television has changed the way we see ourselves.” Not just one television standing in for many, but a television (see Plato, above) or televisions (the part) standing in for the technology plus the associated technologies, economies, practices etc. (the whole). That is, an example of metonymy.

    “Cane-toad invaded Queensland” — ungrammatical, in my book (unless Cane-toad is a proper name).

    “Television has changed the way we see ourselves.” Not ungrammatical.


    2007 Jan 27 at 04:41

  7. I think your example of ‘the’ connoting ‘one standing in for many’ has hit the nail on the head. I’ve really been struggling to proofread my thesis and correct it all (correcting ‘mistakes’ that I don’t really see), and I’m beginning to hopefully understand it a bit better. See this example:

    (a) For the webfilmmaker, this means that s/he has to consider his or her target audience carefully.

    (b) For a webfilmmaker, this means that s/he has to consider his or her target audience carefully.

    (c) For webfilmmakers, this means that they have to consider their target audience carefully.

    Now, I have been alternating (a) and (b) quite naturally, without thinking about it. I thought that (b) was correct as it means ‘any webfilmmaker’, i.e. it applies always. I’ve been using ‘the webfilmmaker’ a lot too.

    This was more intuitively, i.e. I couldn’t understand why (grammatically) this was correct, or if indeed it was. I guess your answer sheds more light on it: ‘the webfilmmaker’ here stands for ‘all webfilmmakers’ –> metonymy.

    As I’ve been confused by my examiner’s remarks regarding the article use ‘throughout my thesis’, I’ve been trying to eliminate my use of ‘the + noun’. Thus, I have replaced version (a) mostly with version (c). It’s what I’m going to stick with for now, just to be on the safe side. I hope this is correct.

    Any other opinions welcome. To be honest, I’m not going to get too hung up on it. I don’t think they’re going to reject my final, amended PhD because of non-native article mishaps here and there. It would probably be discriminatory anyway!


    2007 Jan 27 at 05:22

  8. […] plural thing? (an all rather than each) Oceans are.. the Atlantic Ocean is. Or is it, as suggested here something other. The thing about both “TV” (or “television”) and “new media”, at least […]

    Sprachgefuhl | ablog

    2007 Sep 8 at 17:46

  9. look. we call ‘the’ the definite, and ‘a’ the indefinite. these words mean ‘within limits,’ and ‘not within limits’ respectively.

    ‘a’ can be used in a couple of ways to introduce:
    1-a particular, non-identified noun– this is the specific use of the indefinite: e.g. A man walks to the store.
    2-a statement which makes a general statement– this is the universal use of the indefinite: e.g. A bachelor is an unmarried male.

    now. When we move to a plural use in these instances we loose the article: e.g. Bachelors are unmaried males.

    we can also use the definite to make a general statement: e.g. The bloodhound is a stubborn creature. this has parrallels in: A bloodhound is a stubborn creature; bloodhouns are stubborn creatures. These three statements are more or less congruent in significance.

    ‘the’ is used to introduce a specific, defined noun, as well as the case above where it is used to introduce the predications of a specific concept: e.g. The girl across the hall looks good today; The girl is a fundementally unbalanced creature– respectively
    in the case of the definite we do not loose the article when we use the plural.

    the instance of ‘the new media’ in your thesis is an example of where the noun (new media) is inherently general, its not like there is a specific ‘new media’ to which you refer… unless of course you are refering to blue-ray discs, or something like this. the nature of your concept is inherently general… think about it. the predications you have for this concept are general, new vs old, and are not specific or well-formed enough to point to a specific thing, just a certain kind of thing. while assuredly there exist limits on the domain of your statement, i.e. nothing ‘old’ can be applied in its function, the remaining discursive space in open to innumerable and greatly varrying objects.

    what we need to understand is that the article is named such because of its function in the articulation of concepts; these things serve to introduce a noun into language, and in doin so they must assert the logical domain of its significance, and this is the fundemental determiner of which is used where, or when none is needed at all.

    i suggest reading: Saul Kripke, naming and neccesity, with a possible foray into the descriptive theries of Bertrand Russel (who’e theory is debunked by kripke)

    i know this is reall late for the original blogger, but hopefully it will be usefull to those finding this blog, as i did, with questions of their own.

    deadbeat jeff

    2008 Jan 24 at 16:15

  10. I admire ‘the’ courage you had to post this question. I think many people with abstract minds tend to confuse the usage of articles, because they consequently have trouble distinguishing concrete concepts from abstract. This post has helped me reflect my own problems with English grammar, and I wish you all the best. Thanks!

    James T Kirk

    2011 Jan 8 at 23:02

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: