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the darkness of water at midnight

I think “the water” would be correct.

Here's an example:

The America of the industrial era was...

Here, “the” is used before “America” because it is modified by “of the industrial era”.

So in the original example, I thought it should be “the water at midnight.” It is not any body of water, but the water in the evening.

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I’ve altered the title of this post to describe the issue per this thread on Meta. – Tyler James Young Apr 24 '14 at 16:05

With the phrase the darkness of water at midnight, it actually is any body of water, as long as you observe it at the correct time. In order to say the darkness of the water at midnight, you need to be referring to a specific body of water, not just a specific time.
So if this is an observation regarding, say, the Mississippi river, you could include the extra the, but if it's a blanket statement regarding what any water looks like when it's very dark outside, you need to just say "of water".

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+1 The Mississippi is actually pretty dark even at midday; it's not called the Big Muddy for nothing. :) – StoneyB Apr 24 '14 at 16:57
@StoneyB Looks pretty pale, to me! :-P – David Richerby Apr 24 '14 at 21:52

To understand the difference, consider a different example. You can say either:

I never drink anything but wine. Milk is slimy, and the taste of water is insipid


He took a sip from the chalice. The taste of the water was bitter and chalky.

In the first sentence, you are talking about drinking water generally ("water"); in the second, you are talking about a specific drink of water, which has been referred to earlier ("the water").

Your example is the same, and whether you use "the" will depend on context. You could say either:

I paddled across the lake towards the ruined castle. The darkness of the water chilled my bones.


I looked into her face, her dark eyes reminding me of the darkness of water at midnight.

Both are correct; which one to use depends on the context.

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+1, especially your examples. – StoneyB Apr 24 '14 at 16:58

I just wanted to add that if you're coming from certain other languages, I think this is going to feel really awkward. When I was learning French, it felt completely opposite. "le [whatever]", which I incorrectly translated in my mind to "the [whatever]", is actually how they talk about the general [whatever]. In English, we use the noun without any article at all to refer to 'everything that can be called [whatever]'. "The water is hot" in English refers to some specific water. But if I make a statement about all water, like "Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen", in French that translates to "L'eau se compose d'hydrogène et d'oxygène."

My point being, it might be that your native language does this in a completely opposite fashion, which would contribute to confusion until you get used to it.

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