Why is the former preceded by the definite article, the, while the latter isn't?

My only explanation is, trying to make sense of the semantically convoluted and highly irregular English system of grammatical articles, that the former is less abstract than the latter, hence the definite article whose only function seems to me to be that of somehow putting more stress on the concreteness of the Latin verb as a grammatical class of its own.

Does my explanation make any sense to you at all; and is it in accordance with what English grammar says about it?

  • Compare: The Bengal Tiger. Bengal Culture.
    – TimR
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 16:30

2 Answers 2


The degree of concreteness or abstractness of a concept is not related to whether its noun is countable or not (see ), and it is the countability of a noun which determines whether it takes a determiner, and whether or not it can be pluralized.

Here, verb is a countable noun, whereas conjugation is an uncountable noun (or mass noun or noncount noun), even though they are both theoretical constructs. A great many purely conceptual ideas are countable— idea itself is countable, as are decision or charism or noumenon.

At the same time, words for substances— stone, butter, fog— are often uncountable, as are words for some classes of tangible objects, like glassware, furniture, or housing.

What is tricky is that there are many situations where a non-count noun can be used as a count noun. This is probably most common, especially in informal situations, where a substance has been packaged or divided into discrete units for consumption.

Person A: Let's order dessert for the table. How many desserts should we get?
Person B: Ice cream is a dessert I definitely love— we should order three ice creams.

Here, it is understood that person B wants to order three servings of ice cream, in whichever way the restaurant serves it.

Another situation involves varieties of something uncountable.

The dessert specials were for chocolate cake, butterscotch ice cream, and rum raisin ice cream. The ice creams were far more popular than the cake; in fact, either ice cream on its own was more popular than the cake.

As you have not provided complete sentences, we have to assume that conjugation is being used in a non-countable way in your original question. But you can speak of examples or categories of conjugation in a countable way as well:

Traditionally, there are four basic Latin conjugations. The third conjugation has a huge variety of patterns, compared to a conjugation like the fourth which is relatively regular.


the convoluted and highly irregular English system of grammatical articles

Relax, there's only two, a/an and the.

You must first understand the English concept of wanting to know "which X" you are talking about when speaking about X as a noun - and of course, you only care about "which X" when there is one X. So English has a speech function called the "determiner" that fulfills that, and articles are one possible type of determiner.

The job of articles is as follows:

  • Make it known that we are talking about one thing

  • Make it known we are talking about an actual instance of thing, and not a concept or type.

  • Indicate whether A) we are referring to a previous instance of the thing mentioned in conversation (the) or B) we are referring to a new instance (a/an).

  • "Previous instance" may go beyond previous conversation, it can reach into shared experiences between speaker/writer and listener/reader or reach into things assumed to be "experienced by all."

It's not really about "concreteness" per se (except whether you use an article or not) insofar as just whether a noun is something new in the conversation or something previously mentioned/known/assumed to be known.

  • By "the convoluted and highly irregular English system of grammatical articles," I actually meant "the semantically convoluted and highly irregular English system of grammatical articles," not "the grammatically convoluted and highly irregular English system of grammatical articles." Its system of meaning, not that of forms, is somewhat irregular. Commented May 9, 2017 at 17:33
  • Well definite articles don't really have anything to do with the verb. They are all about the noun.
    – LawrenceC
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 23:55

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