I must admit, that despite having spoken English for quite some time, i still cannot grasp all the intricacies of articles. My native tongue just doesn't have them, and they continue to perplex me.

The phrase "jump in the air" seems to stand out as something unusual. One is not jumping into the tank with some specific air, but instead is just jumping upwards, whatever air one meets there is quite irrelevant and unknown.

I have read this, which was very helpful, but i don't believe is relevant in this example. Would one consider "jump in the air" to be an idiom? If so, that would explain it.

  • This answer might help you some.
    – J.R.
    Oct 28 '16 at 6:32
  • "Jump in the air" is not an idiomatic phrase, such as fuel to the fire. Could you use your phrase in a sentence, or more than one, so we can better know how you think it is or should be used? Oct 28 '16 at 14:01

There are certain uncountable nouns used in idiomatic phrases that behave in this way. After all, we see similar wording with:

  • swim in the ocean
  • a stab in the dark
  • bring home the bacon
  • another one bites the dust
  • turn up the volume
  • hands in the air

However, I understand your confusion! After all, we generally say:

  • a moment in time (not a moment in the time)
  • in sickness and in health (not in the health)
  • bundle of joy (not bundle of the joy)
  • best of luck (not best of the luck)
  • taken with a grain of salt (not with a grain of the salt)

I can't think of a foolproof rule that would tell you when to include a definite article, and when to omit one. You're right to say that some of it is simply idiomatic – or at least seems to be. But do remember that you don't need to be talking about "some specific X" to use a definite article; that's only one use of a few. Oddly enough, when I say, "My daughter played the clarinet," we aren't talking about a specific clarinet; however, when we say, "My son ate the hamburger," we are likely talking about a specific hamburger (like the one you left on the counter, for example.) Here's another interesting one: if I say "Turn up the radio," then I'm referring to a specific radio; however, if I say, "This song got a lot of play on the radio," I'm not talking about a specific radio, but radio playlists in general.

  • Yes but "jump in the air" is not an idiomatic phrase (it's not something native speakers would often say). Oct 29 '16 at 18:10
  • @AlanC - precisely why I elected to use hands in the air in my list of examples instead. I don't think there's any need to get wrapped around the axle about the degree to which jump in the air is idiomatic. The O.P.'s problem seems to be with the trickiness of articles in general, and I agree: that's a thorny problem for the learner.
    – J.R.
    Oct 29 '16 at 22:11

I don't agree with

"whatever air one meets there is quite irrelevant and unknown."

Whatever air you meet there is quite specific. It is the specific air you are jumping into. Just like the ground you land on is the specific ground that forms your landing place.

Otherwise, it is not really common to say jump in the air. So no, it's not at all an idiom or even an idiomatic expression. I don't know when I would say it; it would have to be in a specialized context.

A more useful and common phrase is

jump into the water

and the water the person is jumping into is quite specific: the water that the person is, or will, or is being asked to jump into.

  • You take a breath of air, not a breath of the air though.
    – v010dya
    Oct 28 '16 at 21:14
  • @v010dya most times, but not always. this stuff is highly context dependent. Oct 28 '16 at 22:26
  • @v010dya for instance: take a breath of the air in this room. doesn't it stink? Oct 28 '16 at 22:32
  • This is exactly what i'm saying, it's a breath of air, unless it's some specific air.
    – v010dya
    Oct 29 '16 at 5:39
  • Do you deny that when you jump into the water you are jumping into "specific" water? Oct 29 '16 at 18:25

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