10

My student caught me off guard. She asked me why you say "Thank you for the flowers" when the article "the" is not used for countable nouns "I like flowers".

  • 10
    To mark it definite. The article the is used for a countable and uncountable noun. – user178049 Apr 10 '17 at 8:55
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    "Thank you for flowers" could be addressed to spring or nature. If you thank a human, you will usually only want to thank them for particular flowers, not for the existence of flowers per se. – Carsten S Apr 10 '17 at 14:12
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    The only time I'd expect to hear "Thank you for flowers." is some one talking to a god who invented the very notion and/or existence of all flowers as a whole. – Shufflepants Apr 10 '17 at 15:12
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    Similar ELU question: Definite article with plural nouns – sumelic Apr 10 '17 at 15:14
  • I like the explanation at owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/540/01 – Peabody Apr 10 '17 at 20:36
31

Using the or not in your sentences has nothing to do with the fact that flower is a countable noun.

The definite article the serves to identify the flowers you have given the person who is thanking you for them. When you say "thank you" it is necessarily for something that is known, therefore definite.

Thank you for the flowers.

When you say:

"I like flowers"

you are using the word flowers as a generic term, you are not talking about a particular set of flowers, but of flowers in general. You do not use the definite article in that case.

But you would have to use the definite article if you were saying you like a particular set of flowers:

I like the flowers in your garden.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ColleenV Apr 12 '17 at 11:57
1

When you say "Thank you for flowers" you are thanking the person with whom you are speaking for flowers as a part of existence-- all flowers rather than any specific instance of them. This sentence is similar to saying "I thank you that there are flowers in the world". This is appropriate in prayer, but not so much with other humans, usually.

When you say "Thank you for the flowers" you are thanking the person with whom you are speaking for some specific flowers, presumably the ones they gave you. This is similar to saying "I thank you that I have some flowers", which is more likely what you wished to express.

The important thing here is that omitting or including the definite article is not wrong in a linguistic sense, it just changes the meaning to refer to either flowers as a whole or some specific flowers in particular, respectively.

1

I think the easiest way to understand this is to understand that there is a implied portion of the phrase. The full statement would be something like:

Thank you for the flowers that you gave me.

The phrase doesn't make sense if this isn't true. There are many such implied portions involving 'the' that depend on the implication being known by the other person or persons in the conversation. "Thanks for the advice", "Thanks for the beer", "Thanks for the help" all presume known instances of advice, beer, and help respectively. If they were not know, the listener would generally ask for clarification: "what advice exactly?" Once you consider the implied part of the statement it's easier to understand how 'the' is being used here. Leaving off 'the' in the following:

Thank you for flowers that you gave me.

Now has a different meaning but it's still sensible. Like, for example if someone were writing a poem about their lost love of many years, they might thank them for all the flowers they ever were given, not just a specific bunch.

  • I really like this answer (especially the second part). – nigel222 Apr 11 '17 at 9:20
1

Your question hinges on the use of definite and indefinite articles.

Indefinite

  • I have a shoe.
  • I have shoes.

I am telling you that I own shoes, although I do not reveal anything about the shoes.

Definite

  • I have the shoe.
  • I have the shoes.

I am telling you that I have THE shoe(s). This could mean "the shoe you were looking for" or "the shoe we were talking about"; that very much depends on the context.
But if you say "the shoe", then you are certain that whoever you're talking to knows exactly which shoe you are talking about. You're not just talking about any random shoe.

When you use a definite article, you are talking about a specific item (e.g. the shoe that you were looking for. Not just any shoe, but THAT shoe.)

When you use an indefinite article, you are talking about a shoe. Any shoe.


Thank you for the flowers.

You are talking specifically about the flowers that you were given. Those specific flowers.

Thank you for flowers.

The only way in which I can see this being grammatically correct is if you are e.g. thanking God for creating flowers (as a general concept). Not just the flowers in your garden, or all the flowers you've ever seen.

-1

"The" is used to define something special, something unique or to speak about something determined or selected (chosen). There is only one sky, a unique sky everybody knows about so that's why we say "the sky". But there are many flowers so generally you say "I like flowers" that little things make me confuse. i replace my order to assignmentlounge & get the right answer easily.

-3

I am pondering the use of articles for a while now. I do not have a clear answer, but let me try.

  1. Technically, "these" could be used here to create a narrow context.

  2. "The" can be used to mark an abstract class of nouns or unique objects (among other uses).

  3. In the example, these flowers are considered the only flowers valid in this context, or the flowers for short. That avoids being too specific - instead, gratitude for (the) flowers in general is expressed.

  4. "I like flowers" on the other hand is indefinite, the claim is completely unspecific - not all flowers are likable, there are obvious exceptions.

These aren't exact definitions, rather they form a contrast that can be used to express distinct orders. The exact nature of uniqueness etc. is a rather philosophical topic outside the scope of descriptive grammar.

  • 2
    -1. I disagree. "The" is used to define something special, something unique or to speak about something determined or selected (chosen). There is only one sky, a unique sky everybody knows about so that's why we say "the sky". But there are many flowers (it's not a unique thing), so generally you say "I like flowers" - any flower, whatever/whichever flower exists. But if you wish to сoncretize some unique/special/definite/determined/chosen flowers, you say "the flowers". – SovereignSun Apr 10 '17 at 9:58
  • If you say "I like flowers" that means you like all flowers and not what you said. You like flowers in general, any kind of flower. – SovereignSun Apr 10 '17 at 10:01
  • "There is only one sky, a unique sky" I'm sorry, that's just a contradiction of what you said before and proves exactly what I was trying to say (that it is confusing and a matter of habit), however I had already removed the edit, because it distracts from the answer, e.g. as you feel the need to comment on it, rather than on the discrepancy between the use of the and this/these. – Hector von Apr 10 '17 at 10:07
  • You see, you can't really understand the word Definite. – SovereignSun Apr 10 '17 at 10:16
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    I downvoted because of the "I like flowers" part, this goes against everything i've known and all grammar. If you like flowers that means you like any flower, all of them in general. It's very specific. – SovereignSun Apr 10 '17 at 15:43

protected by Community Aug 7 '17 at 11:56

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