I wrote:

The money isn't the root of selfishness. It can (instead) be the facilitator for good deeds.

Someone corrected it to "money". However as I googled I found a song including "it's not all about the money, not all about the fame". How does this usage of "the money" differ with mine?

Similarly, "the fame" is used in the song with the definite article

  • Sometimes we can use the definite article before a noun and that noun will have a general meaning. Such phrases are called generic noun phrases -- but apparently "the money" cannot be used in this "generic sense". – CowperKettle Jan 6 '17 at 17:32
  • @CowperKettle Why not? In the song I provided the link, it just begin with "It’s not all about the money, not all about the fame", maybe "the money and the fame" are compared with the other things they can have... I feel, when we want to distinguish a type in a set of possible other types, we may use "the". – Ahmad Jan 6 '17 at 18:08

Many nouns in English can be used in either a count or a non-count sense, and money is no exception. In general, the money refers to specific money, and ∅ money (no article) means money as a general phenomenon or idea.

So when you say "The money isn't the root of selfishness", it sounds like you are referring to a specific sum of money - which you probably aren't; you're probably talking about money in general.

When the song says "It's not all about the money", that's because it's not all about the specific money involved in whatever it is.

This sort of thing comes up a lot - for example, I can say I ate a pie (one specific pie) and now there is pie all over my face (a nonspecific amount of "pie" considered as a general substance). My friend Bill has a philosophy that causes him to not give money to charity (because it's one specific philosophy) but my friend Mary studies philosophy (that is, it's a general concept or field of study). You can even do this with normally countable nouns: The terrorist strapped the bomb to the cow (specific terrorist, bomb, and cow), and after the bomb went off there was cow all over the place (a nonspecific amount of "cow" considered as a general substance).

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    Dang. Poor cow. Otherwise I completely agree, although the distinction between "money" and "the money" can be pretty fuzzy, and a lot of times one just "sounds" better in context. Adding the definite article adds emphasis to money as compared to something else, like quality or love or life purpose or some such. – Andrew Jan 6 '17 at 17:21
  • @Andrew I have the same feeling! in the song I provided the link, it just begin with "It’s not all about the money, not all about the fame", maybe "the money and the fame" are compared with the other things they can have... – Ahmad Jan 6 '17 at 18:06
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    @Ahmad that's a common idiom in pop music, but again "the" is not required. "It's not about money -- it's about respect!" or "It's not about the money, it's about giving back to the community!" – Andrew Jan 6 '17 at 18:16
  • I side with @Andrew here; I don't think the song is about a "specific sum of money," despite the inclusion of the definite article. – J.R. Jan 6 '17 at 19:16
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    @J.R. I think stangdon also implies that the money could be money from a particular source, like "the money I make from my music". I completely agree with that, just that it gets fuzzy when it means something non-specific like "the money that I was thinking about when I wrote this song." – Andrew Jan 6 '17 at 19:23

The definite article signals that the speaker has in mind a specific instance of the noun.

It's not about the fame, it's not about the money. I play professional football because I love the sport.

Paraphrased: It's not about the fame players can expect or I have gotten, it's not about the money they can earn in the sport or I have earned...

The general ideas expressed by the restrictive clauses modifying the nouns fame and money in the paraphrase are tacit in the original quote.

As is usually the case with the tacit, we do not know precisely what the speaker has in mind, but the speaker expects us to understand well enough what is meant.

  • So, can't one interpret my sentence "The money [one earns] isn't the root of selfishness"? I mean your rule may have many applications... – Ahmad Jan 6 '17 at 20:43
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    Your example is unidiomatic. You are referring to money in general not to a specific instance of money, and so the definite article does not work. "The money she stood to inherit from her uncle did not cause her to murder him. She hated his bad puns." – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 6 '17 at 20:44
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    If you wanted to refer to specific money, you would have to make it clearer, as I did with "I play professional football because...". Your example lacks any sort of context that would allow the listener to understand that you had specific money or a specific kind or source of money in mind. For example, "The money doesn't necessarily make lottery winners greedy. Some become philanthropists." – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 6 '17 at 20:56
  • The tacit restriction which licenses or explains the definite article there is "they win". The money they win doesn't necessarily make lottery winners greedy... – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 6 '17 at 21:05
  • I see the rest of my sentence is very general and requires a generic term. Specially that it has no context. – Ahmad Jan 6 '17 at 21:49

Pink Floyd's song Money has the following lyrics

Money, it's a crime
Share it fairly but don't take a slice of my pie
Money, so they say
Is the root of all evil today

Barrett Strong's song
Money (That's What I Want)

The best things in life are free
But you can keep them for the birds and bees
Now give me money
That's what I want
That's what I want, yeah
That's what I want

Money don't get everything it's true
What it don't get, I can't use
Now give me money
That's what I want
That's what I want, yeah
That's what I want, wah

The musical Cabaret had a international hit with the song, yes you guessed it, Money, which contained the following line

Money makes the world go around

Not a single time was "the" needed or used with money. In all three songs, money is referred to as a concept, as to what it represents. Precisely as @TRomano and @stangdon already stated in their answers.

Money with a definite article "the" refers to specific money that only the speaker and the listener know about or by reason of locality. For example, "Pass me the money on the table."

"Have you got the money from the bank?" means the money that you told me about yesterday.

But money, in general, when is used in this sense, not specific money is not preceded by the definite article "the". For example,

Money is a significant thing for living.
Life is hard without money.

  • I agree "specific money" but not necessarily "only the speaker and the listener know about". I could say, "Bill Gates has billions of dollars. He earned the money from his software business." Many people other than you and me know that Bill Gates has a lot of money. The point is that we both know the specific money in question. Drop the word "only" and I think the rest of your post is correct. – Jay Sep 13 at 15:49

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