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See this conversation which is written by a non-native English teacher

A: Let's go to the zoo

B: Which animals do you want to see in the zoo?

A: I wanna see the lions.

First of all, "A" can say "the zoo" at the beginning of the conversation because maybe both "A" & "B" know that specific zoo. Maybe "A" & "B" live in the same city & there is only one zoo in that city.

So, I would say "A: Let's go to the zoo" is a proper expression

However, see the next expression "B: Which animals do you want to see in the zoo?"

Cambridge Grammar says:

We use both "which" and "what" to ask questions. We use "which" when there is a restricted range of answers. We use what more commonly when the range of answers is not restricted:

Which is the capital of Liberia? Monrovia or Greenville?

What’s the capital of Liberia?

There would be hundreds of animals in the zoo & I don't think "A" or "B" can remember specifically all these animals.

So, I would say "Which animals do you want to see in the zoo?" should be changed to "What animals do you want to see in the zoo?"

Finally, I would say "A: I wanna see the lions." is not a proper expression since "B" may not be able to figure out what the specific lions A is talking about. "B" may have responded "B: What lions are you taking about?".

I would guess that "A" wants to see all lions generally.

However, this site says

You can use the with the singular form of a countable noun when you want to make a general statement about all things of a particular type.

The computer allows us to deal with a lot of data very quickly.

My father's favourite flower is the rose.

But I am not sure "A" can say "A: I want to see the lion." (the lion: all things of a particular type.)

Therefore, I would say "A: I want to see the lions." should be changed to "A: I want see lions."

Am I right?

  • 4
    Maybe it would be best to divide your question into several questions, and post them separately. – CowperKettle Mar 29 '17 at 3:22
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Let's go to the zoo.

You're correct, but "the" is not quite so restrictive. Even if there were multiple zoos, you would probably say "Let's go to the zoo". In this case, it would be followed by "Which zoo do you want to go to?" You would get to the same place in the discussion if you said "Let's go to a zoo."

"A" zoo would be technically correct, but people would typically have a preference for a particular zoo rather than any random zoo being equally fine. "The" just implies that there is one preferred zoo, even if both people's preferences are different as to which one it is. So it refers to a specific, though unidentified zoo.

Which animals do you want to see in the zoo?

If you're asking about the person's preference for choice of animals to see, it means you expect that the person will have specific thoughts on the matter, which is a defined set. If you arrive at a huge, unfamiliar zoo, you might ask an attendant, "What animals might we see here?"

I wanna see the lions.

If you ask someone about their general preference on animals that they might want to see up-close, they might say, "I want to see lions", meaning animals of the lion variety. If the context is specific lions, like the lions at that zoo, it would be "I want to see the lions." "The" is not so restrictive that it only applies to specific individual lions.

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A. Most cities have at most one zoo, so saying the zoo naturally refers to that one, and both speaker and hearer know that.

There are always other scenarios. If the interlocutors live in between two cities, and each city has a zoo, then the speaker might still say the zoo if he expects his hearer to be able to identify which one he's talking about. If the speaker hasn't made up his mind, he could say a zoo.

More generally, for typical places found in a city, such as the park, the bank, the store, the library, the cleaners, etc etc, native speakers use the–even when there is more than one of each place. The hearer does not necessarily know which library which bank, etc the speaker means, but many times he will, based on prior experience, shared knowledge, the speaker's habits, or some other clue in the context or dialog. The hearer is free to ask Which one? if he wants.

B. Which is fine; it refers to the restricted subset of animals that the hearer will see, out of the restricted set at the zoo. Neither speaker nor hearer has to be able to name every member of this set. However, what is not impossible, for instance if the speaker is unaware of which "restricted set" of animals this particular zoo has.

C. the lions is most natural. This refers to the lions at the zoo; this is clear from context. Also, the lions does not have to include all the lions. The speaker can say lions, but saying I'm going to see lions at the zoo sounds more juvenile (a kid might say it or a caregiver to a kid).

  • Why did this answer get a downvote? It's quite good. It even explains the subtlety about "the zoo", "the bank", "the store", etc., giving the OP insight that goes beyond the specific sentences asked about in the question. – Ben Kovitz May 28 '17 at 21:49

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