"The Owls Are Not What They Seem" vs "Owls Are Not What They Seem".

This is a popular statement from Twin Peaks TV series, but is there any difference if you put "The" at the beginning or not?

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  • I disagree that it's a duplicate. It's not confusion about articles, its confusion about subject. – spongessuck Sep 7 '16 at 1:52
  • +1 One of my favorite series. Cooper : "Everyday, give you one present. A cup of strong joe" :) – user17814 Sep 7 '16 at 3:08
  • I am voting to re-open this question because it's about definite article/no article, not about definite article/indefinite article. I think that the OP needs to provide more information though: never having seen "Twin Peaks", I don't know whether the statement is about owls in general or a specific group of owls that features in the series. – JavaLatte Sep 7 '16 at 17:36
  • As a Twin Peaks (series 1) fan, I can say that the phrase refers to the owls in the Ghostwood forest, not all owls. Thus, the the is mandatory for people to get the reference. – FeliniusRex Feb 8 at 22:03

The statement from Twin Peaks includes the definite article:

COOPER: Where do you come from?

THE GIANT: The question is, where have you gone? The first thing I will tell you is: There’s a man in a smiling bag.

COOPER: A man in a smiling bag…

THE GIANT: The second thing is: The owls are not what they seem. The third thing is: Without chemicals, he points.

(Cited from The Little White Mask Blog.)

There is a difference in making a generic reference (talking about owls in general) and an existential reference (talking about a set of owls that exists).

The use of a definite noun phrase with a plural count noun is not used for making a generic reference, that is: it is not used to talk about owls in general, owls as a species, or about the typical owl.

When you have a noun phrase that consists of a plural count noun, you can only be talking about some specific owls that exist somewhere. They could exist only in one's dreams, but they exist.

In addition, using the owls in the sentence means that the Giant assumes that his hearer, Cooper, can or will be able to identify which owls he is talking about.

(For more information, see Lawler on generic noun phrases.)


"The owls" refer to the owls at Twin Peaks. If you just say "owls" it sounds like you're talking about owls in general.

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