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I learned that if we are referring to money in general, then we don't use "the".

So: "I need money" = I need money in general (any money).

But when watching a movie, I heard people say "I need the money".

Here is the plot - a girl is currently out of job and she came to a job interview:

Interviewer: "Why do you want this job?"

Girl: "I need the money."

So, I think maybe her sentence is implied and its complete sentence could be:

"I need the money to support my lifestyle."

So, when should we use "I need money." and when should we instead use "I need the money."?

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    I need the money (that results from doing this job) perhaps? – mike Dec 30 '16 at 9:11
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    Great question - I have been about to answer like 5 times, but each time I think I've figured out how this works, I realise I haven't! Interested to see answers, so upvoted and favourited. :) – 3N1GM4 Dec 30 '16 at 9:40
  • This may not apply broadly to all cases. But in this context I need money seems to describe an immediate, pressing need. the money sort of implies a more generalized, ongoing need with an implied reference to the regular payroll. Maybe this is just idiom more than anything strictly logical? – shawnt00 Dec 30 '16 at 15:49
31

"The money" is a particular source of money

Omnidisciplinarianist's answer starts out by saying (quite rightly) that "the" is used when it is "a specific amount or parcel of money". However, the rest of their answer seems to suggest that the "specific" part is about "being specific to a purpose". I disagree; I would argue that it is about "being specific to a source".

In your example...

Interviewer: "Why do you want this job?"

Girl: "I need the money."

...you rightly observe that the girl hasn't specified what she needs the money for. However, this is not important for her choice of "the money" rather than "money". She means that she needs the money that this job would pay.


Writing this answer has gotten me thinking about this choice of phrase. It occurred to me (and you too may wonder), what's the real difference? A dollar is a dollar, or a pound is a pound. Aside from practical or legal concerns, you would never have reason to say, "I need this money, not that money," if both were the same amount.

While I have said that "the money" is used when referring to a particular source, I think it's worth pointing out that it isn't important for that money to be any different to any other money. If the girl in your example interviewed for two jobs, paying the same, then it's not true that she needs "the money" specific to one job or the other. However, she would still likely say "the money", not because she needs that specific source of money, but because she and the interviewer are talking about a specific source of money already.

In other words, the difference between these phrases...

I need money.

I need the money.

...isn't really that you need this specific source money, but that you are already talking about this specific source of money. There is an implication that this specific source of money is the right amount for you, but that doesn't mean you would change your wording based on whether you had other alternatives available.

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    +1 for the last paragraph, especially. This is an example of the general rule that we use a definite article when we think the hearer already knows the particular thing we're talking about. learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/… – 1006a Dec 30 '16 at 16:08
  • Hmm, what about the sentence "where will I get the money to pay my bills?" By definition the source of unknown, but it still sounds best with a "the". – Kat Dec 30 '16 at 17:30
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    @Kat I think “the money” refers to any specific quantity or stream of money, whether it’s the source that’s known (in the OP’s example) or the purpose (in yours). – Lynn Dec 30 '16 at 18:08
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    @Lynn that was my point. One answer says the source being specified is important, another says the purpose being specified is what counts, but what actually matters is that it's being specified somehow. It doesn't matter how. – Kat Dec 30 '16 at 18:16
  • @Kat: That's a bit of a different question to "I need the money". In that case, yes, "the money" is called "the money" because of a specific purpose, not a specific source. – Tim Pederick Dec 31 '16 at 10:28
8

The basic gist is that it depends on whether we're talking about a specific amount or parcel of money, or money in general.

The kicker is that English is a language that engaged in Ellipsis, which is a fancy way of saying we leave out parts of a given sentence that aren't necessary (or so we think). You've realized this in your post and have a good example, though there are many likely possibilities.

I need the money...

  • ...that this position pays.
  • ...to support my lifestyle (your suggestion).
  • ...for the rampant heroin addiction that I haven't told you about.

You get the picture, right? In fact, this is a common tactic of manipulators of many stripes, including "cold readers" who give just enough information ("I need the money...") and allow you to complete the sentence yourself without ever realizing it.

That being said, the same rules and suggestions that concern the use of definite and indefinite articles apply for the word money. So if you are describing a definitive amount, collection, denomination, etc of money, you'll want to use the.

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    "I need money to purchase a new car" And "I need the money to purchase a new car" both work. What's the difference? If any? – Mari-Lou A Dec 30 '16 at 13:03
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    I have a strong urge to complete the sentence with the words "that this position pays" or something to that effect. The exact amount doesn't even need to be known; the fact that the job produces a clearly identified stream of income is enough. – David K Dec 30 '16 at 13:43
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    @Mari-LouA: "I need the money" means that the person is referring to money they're getting from somewhere; that is the money that they are hoping to get, in order to afford the car. – Tim Pederick Dec 30 '16 at 14:12
  • @Mari-LouA Alternatively to what Tim Pederick said: "I need the money..." means "I need a definite amount of money for the specific purpose of buying the car". "I need money..." has the more general meaning of "I need more money than I already have, or more than I am already earning". – alephzero Dec 30 '16 at 14:47
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    @Mari-LouA This is more of the ellipsis mentioned in the answer. "I need the money to purchase a new car" would be a suitable answer to why a loan is needed. The implication there would be "I need the money [you would loan me] to purchase a new car." – Blrfl Dec 30 '16 at 15:01
4

From the context I can guess that the girl meant that she needed exactly that amount of money to be paid to her as her salary, so this sum is known to her and to the interviewer.

But if you need money in general, the more correct answer would be "I need money". Or "I need more money" to say when you are changing your current job to a more highly paid position.

2

It's true, if you are talking about money in general, you don't need a "the", but that's true of any object. You use "the" to signify a specific object, but not when referring to it in general. Consider:

"Do you carry any keys?" "Will you grab the keys off the coffee table?"

That's probably not surprising to you that when talking about keys in general, you don't use "the", but when talking about specific keys, you do. Keys are really no different from money. Consider:

"Do you carry any money?" "Will you grab the money off the coffee table?"

The second sentence might be abbreviated if it's expected we already know where the keys or money are:

"Will you grab the keys?" "Will you grab the money?"

The second sentence might sound strange, but that's just because we normally don't care that you have some particular money, but just some money in general. Imagine you were leaving to make a deposit and had an envelope of cash on the table for this specific purpose. In that context, the sentence seems fine, and would even be strange without a "the".

This abbreviation is what is happening in your example. She's saying she needs the money from the job, which is why she needs the job. But wait, does she really need that money in particular? No, of course not, she certainly just needs money in general. So why specify? A response in either form would be grammatical, but there is a slight difference in implication. Saying "I need money" doesn't relate back to the job you're applying for. It's a reason to apply for a job, sure, but why this particular one? All jobs pay money. In contrast "I need the money" is emphasizing that you want the money this particular job will supply. It's the difference between saying "I need money and this job happens to pay money, so I applied for it" vs "I need the money this job will pay." If you leave out the "the" then the sentence abbreviates to the first example, which is not a very good response in an interview, regardless of how true it probably is.

Keep in mind that although this example has a "the" because the source is specified, it can be specified by other means. The important thing is that you are not referring to money in general, but some specific money.

1

A millionaire and a person with £1 live in the same city.

Q: Who needs money?

A: They both do. Without it neither can buy anything. (It just so happens that the millionaire already has a lot of money.)

A job shoveling donkey manure and paying £10 per day becomes available.

Q: Who needs THE money?

A: The person with £1 does. Without it he has no money and can't buy anything.

1

My young son has asked for things at the store and my response has been We don't have money. Taking my words at face value he has objected that indeed we do have money (in the bank account, in my pocket, etc.) and I end of having that common conversation about having bills and food to pay for instead. Of course I don't literally mean that there's no money at all: my intention is really to say that there's not enough money for the thing he wants.

I can't see a significant difference between these two sentences:

We don't have money for that.

We don't have the money for that.

The "rule" you've learned is often true but a little more complicated in real conversation. I think the example you've found is one of the less straightforward cases that doesn't so easily fit into that mold and varies by specified context.

1

The conversation might have gone this way:

Interviewer: "Why do you want this job?"

Girl: "I need the experience."

Similarly, the reply refers back to the experience this job would give her, not just experience in general.

There is not really an implication that this is the only job that would be suitable. Another similar job might give her the desired amount of money (and experience).

Girl: "I need the money."

The use of the word the here clarifies that it is the money that this job pays (presumably more than some other job, or no job at all) that is required.


Similarly:

Friend: "Why are you going on a five-mile run?"

Girl: "I need the exercise."

Again, you don't just need exercise in general (no doubt we all do) but the exercise that this particular run provides is needed by this person.

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