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Sorry if the concepts relating the definite article are such volatile! Which articles (definite, indefinite, zero) can and can't be used before uncountable nouns?

For example:

  • The data extracted from a node (correct, right?)
  • A data extracted from .... (incorrect)
  • The tea was delicious (right?)
  • A tea produced by Ahmad company (incorrect)?

I thought wherever we can use "the" we also can use "a", but it seems we can use "the" before uncountable nouns but not "a" right? For example, I feel "the tea" could be incorrect! if yes why "the data" is not?

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    You ask a lot of question on ELL. May I suggest that you buy a good up-to-date scholarly grammar book, or go on a course?
    – BillJ
    Jan 16, 2017 at 18:36
  • @BillJ Maybe I should do that; however, as you see my English is not that bad ;) ! I also searched for this topic on the web but found no matching item, at least on Ell! I feel that I almost got the definite article topic, but the question above is a bit confusing for me.
    – Ahmad
    Jan 16, 2017 at 18:44
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    Yes, but if you are seriously interested in learning English grammar, you must read grammar textbooks. We can't teach you everything about grammar on this site. And please remember that we are volunteers; we don't get paid for helping you, so a "thank you" would be nice every now and then.
    – BillJ
    Jan 16, 2017 at 18:50
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    Just a small note to one part -- we don't say "a data" because "data" is a plural noun. The singular is "datum".
    – Roger
    Jan 16, 2017 at 18:58
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    The simple answer is yes. In fact the definite article "the" is compatible with all types of common noun: count singular, count plural, and non-count, e.g. Bring me [the ladder/ladders/the cement ]!
    – BillJ
    Jan 16, 2017 at 19:37

2 Answers 2

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When you use 'the' before a noun, you are referring to a specific instance of that noun. It is a definite article.

'A', an indefinite article refers to a abstract or general version of that noun, basically, it's up to the listener/reader/circumstances to fill in which specific instance (if any) fits that noun.

In your examples:

  • The data extracted from a node, yes, correct. The specific data extracted from some node
  • A data extracted from .... Incorrect. 'data' is plural, as Roger pointed out in the comments. If you had said A datum extracted from... you would be referring to any one datum extracted. Which datum would depend on context.
  • The tea was delicious Correct. A specific tea was delicious
  • A tea produced by Ahmad company. Is correct. In this case, you are referring to any one type of tea produced by Ahmad Company. The context would explain more information. For example, if you had: "ABC, a tea produced by Ahmad Company....", you would know which one. On the other hand, "Oh, I'm just drinking a tea produced by Ahmad Company....", would not define which tea.

So in answer to your question, both 'a/an' and 'the' can be used before uncountable nouns, but it is up to the rest of the sentence to determine if that usage is correct or not.

I did a quick search, and this website seems like a good resource for indefinite/definite articles.

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  • Thank you for the answer and the website! I also posted an answer to the question, please check if I am right there or not?
    – Ahmad
    Jan 17, 2017 at 6:30
  • There's a man at the door refers to a specific man. You are mixing up definiteness and specificity. These are two different characteristics. The definite and indefinite articles refer to definiteness, not specificity. Otherwise they'd be called the specific and unspecific articles. I married a woman from Alaska refers to a specific, but indefinite woman. Jan 17, 2017 at 16:22
  • @Clare, right. you didn't clarify which man or woman. Just a man or woman. It's up to the context to specify which one it is. In your case, 'man at the door' fills your condition of 'a man'. When you say 'a man' you could be talking about any person that falls under the category of 'man', the rest of your words explain the specifics.
    – Lumos
    Jan 17, 2017 at 17:15
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I tried to summarize some general rules.

  • "the" can come before most nouns with some exception like most Proper nouns like Jane, London, however nouns like the Netherlands, the United States and some other nouns take "the".

  • Some uncountable nouns can be countable in some context, so they can take "a/an". they are specified with [countable, uncountable] in some dictionaries like Longman (tea, a tea, two teas, food, a food, foods)!

  • Solely uncountable nouns like information can take "the" or "no article" (e.g. the information or information). But they can't get "a/an" (an information is incorrect), they are listed as [uncountable] in some dictionaries.

  • Another important point is that a singular countable can't take "no article" (a computer, the computer, computers but not computer).

Please note that the topic is about the definite and indefinite articles. Other determines like "my","some ",.... can replace a definite or indefinite article, which are out of question here.

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  • If there is something wrong with my answer! please let me know!
    – Ahmad
    Jan 17, 2017 at 6:35
  • I disagree. Many uncountable nouns can have no article, an indefinite article or a definite article. Jan 17, 2017 at 6:36
  • @SovereignSun I also said the same! please read the answer carefully, those uncountable nouns that you mean can have an indefinite article are categorized as countable/uncountable nouns, it's actually dictionaries like "Longman" treat them.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/tea, but pure uncountable nouns can't get an indefinite article.
    – Ahmad
    Jan 17, 2017 at 6:39
  • Also note that some nouns can't get 'the' when it's already a part of that noun, like names. Jan 17, 2017 at 6:39
  • @SovereignSun I also added Proper nouns exception
    – Ahmad
    Jan 17, 2017 at 6:47

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