Henry looks carefully into the telescope which lets him see far, far away, as far away as the distant nebulae on the far edges of the Milky Way ... The Birth of a Star

The above is the first sentence in the story. the writer use the indefinite article (The) three times, I understand one use of them which is last one (the Milky Way) because it is universally known.

Why does the writer use the (not a or nothing) with telescope, nebulae and edges?

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    I can only suppose that the writer liked the way the wording sounded. When I write, some of the time I put a sentence together to create a mood. It is not always the best grammar, but creating a feeling is almost as important and works as long as the bit remains readable. "Bel smiled and she was so simply beautiful to him that Michael could hardly speak. She nodded and put out her hands and they danced. Right there at two in the afternoon in a tiny park near the castle at Bamburgh under the sun. To his mixed tape." It was about the mood, not the grammar.
    – WRX
    Mar 2, 2017 at 18:04
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    "Nebulae" and "edges" are plural, so there's no way to use "a" with them...
    – Catija
    Mar 2, 2017 at 18:14
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    See this. Note that telescope and nebulae are both defined by the phrases which follow them immediately. Mar 2, 2017 at 18:17
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    @Shannak Only with telescope; the Milky Way is a proper name which includes the article, and the other nouns are plural. Mar 2, 2017 at 18:55
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    @Shannak: It's not very likely Henry had several telescopes, and that the writer particularly wanted to make the point that the one Henry chose to look through was capable of seeing that far, whereas others weren't. Which would be one possible reason for using the indefinite article in some syntactically similar contexts. Mar 2, 2017 at 19:22

2 Answers 2


As StoneyB's comment points out

the telescope

refers to a specific telescope which lets him see far, far away

the distant nebulae

refers to nebulae on the far edges (the author might have a specific nebulae in mind)

the Milky Way

refers to, well, the Milky Way, of which there is only one in our galaxy.

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    Nebulae is the plural form of nebula. This would mean that he's looking at several nebulae at the edge of the Milky Way.
    – Werrf
    Mar 2, 2017 at 19:32
  • Well then a nebulae would not be correct.
    – Peter
    Mar 2, 2017 at 20:16

In daily conversation, we try to speak to the listener in a way that keeps them following along without having to make interpretive leaps or having to wait to find out what it is we are talking about, as if they had stepped into a conversation already in progress. The first thing we say to a person we have called on the phone is not something like:

Henry stared down into the well.

But that could very well be the first sentence in a story. Reading a story can be very much like stepping into a conversation already in progress.

All we know as listeners or readers is that the narrator has a particular well in mind, and that we will have to read on or listen further if we want to find out what well that is.

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