8

What is the difference in the meaning and the grammar between

Take a bite out of the stings

and

Take the bite out of the stings

in the sentence,

The jellyfish are still here. There are millions of them and they're stung me all over! I'll make a mixture of seawater and baking soda. That'll take the bite out of the stings

When I search a dictionary, "take a bite ouf of Sth" is searched, but "take the bite ouf of Sth" is not searched. Why?

  • What is "Sth"? I keep seeing that here but as a native AmE speaker I've never seen a native speaker write or say that before. – Nathan K Mar 10 '17 at 17:29
  • @NathanK I think it's an abbreviation for "something" but I could be wrong. – eques Mar 10 '17 at 18:34
  • "Sth" is new to me, and a bit lazy in this context. Every word in this post is fully spelled out except that one. Seems like something that should be discouraged on an English learning site. – Chris Schneider Mar 10 '17 at 19:06
  • sth : ABBREVIATION FOR something – user22046 Mar 10 '17 at 23:05
15

To take "a" bite out of something often refers to literally biting and removing a piece of it.

When I wasn't looking she took a bite out of my hamburger.

One can figuratively take "a" bite out of something too, though this is less common.

McGruff the crime dog wants you to help him take a bite out of crime.

In this case, McGruff wants to reduce the number of crimes that are committed. In both cases we are reducing the quantity of something by taking a bite out of it.

To take "the" bite of something is almost always figurative. Jellyfish stings can feel like something is biting you, so you can "take the bite out" of them in various ways, including a mix of seawater and baking soda, which makes them less painful.

You can use "take the bite out" in many different contexts, with anything that feels like a sharp, biting pain -- physical, emotional, whatever.

In really cold weather like this you have to wear a warm hat to take the bite out of the freezing wind.

Actually it doesn't even have to be painful, just any strong sensation like an unpleasant odor or taste.

This curry is pretty spicy, but if you eat it with some of the yogurt sauce that'll take the bite out of it.

If we were to take "the" bite out of crime, we would be mitigating the negative effects of crime without necessarily reducing the number of crimes committed.

Synonyms for "take the bite out of"

  • 2
    In this case I'd interpret "take a bite out of the sting" to mean "remove some, but not all, of the pain from the sting" while "take the bite out of the sting" to mean to remove all the pain of the sting. – Nathan K Mar 10 '17 at 17:31
  • 1
    I don't think "take a bite out of the sting" would mean "some but not all". "The bite" (meaning the pain/intensity) is an uncounted quality; you wouldn't use bite in plural with the meaning of pain/intensity which is what is required by a bite implying some – eques Mar 10 '17 at 18:37
  • "bite" as an idiom could be even further generalized as the power behind something, such as in the expression, "all bark and no bite". – Kys Mar 10 '17 at 20:02
9

When you take "a bite", that's an action. You're using your mouth to remove a chunk of something.

When you take "the bite" out of something, that's a property that's being removed.

Here are some relevant definitions:

From Dictionary.com:

22. a cutting, stinging, or nipping effect:
the bite of an icy wind; the bite of whiskey on the tongue.

From M-W:

7b : a sharp penetrating effect
The soup has a peppery bite. the bite of the wind on our cheeks

So in your example sentence, the mixture will lessen the pain from the stings, or in other words, take the "bite" out of them. It's a sort of idiomatic usage, where the effect of the stings is likened to the pain of actually being bitten.

  • 1
    Good answer, but "the bite" being taken out just refers to the effect (cutting, stinging, nipping, sharp penetrating) that will be reduced. It isn't a literal comparison or analogy to being bitten as the last sentence suggests. – fixer1234 Mar 10 '17 at 2:23
  • @fixer1234 You're right, it's not a literal comparison. It's idiomatic. – DCShannon Mar 10 '17 at 17:48
4

Generically, 'the bite' refers to something painful and 'a bite' is a significant portion.

In your jellyfish example, "the bite" is the pain caused by the injuries. To take 'the bite' out of the stings means to stop the pain, although the injuries still exist.

So to say you reduced the pain but didn't stop it completely, you could say the seawater and baking soda mixture was to take 'a bite' (a portion) out of 'the bite' (pain) of the stings.

3

Simply put to take " A " bite means that you are eliminating only a small portion of the whole.

To take " THE " bite out would mean to remove the cause of injury as a whole, to remove the problem to a suitable level.

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