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This site says:

We also use the definite article:

• to say something about all the things referred to by a noun:

The wolf is not really a dangerous animal (= Wolves are not really dangerous animals)

The kangaroo is found only in Australia (= Kangaroos are found only in Australia)

The heart pumps blood around the body. (= Hearts pump blood around bodies)

Now, when we say "I want to go to the beach / the lake", does it refer to a specific beach?

How does it differ from "I want to go to a beach / a lake" & "I want to go to beaches / lakes"

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I'll post a dissenting view.

Other answerers are correct in that "the" typically refers to a specific beach whereas "a" typically refers to just some beach somewhere. That's why they're called definite and indefinite articles :)

However, in practice I think it's entirely plausible that one could say "I want to go to the beach" and not be referring to any particular beach.

Take me. I live in Kansas (in the United States) where there's no ocean for 1000+ miles in any direction. Here in the land of grass and wheat, every day somebody says "I want to go to the beach." Translation: I want to go on vacation to somewhere by the ocean.

Which ocean exactly they're talking about, though, nobody knows (at least not from that one sentence). Heck, most of us would be satisfied with seeing any ocean.

There's also a beach on a small portion of a lake near my town, though, and so in the right context "I want to go to the beach" could be referring to that particular beach as well. But in my (geographical) situation, it would be the context that would determine if we are in fact talking about the beach at the lake nearby or just some beach for some ocean out there somewhere in the world.

Contrastingly, I imagine that people who live close to an ocean don't have this problem of wanting to look at something besides grass all day, so if you heard one of those people say "I want to go to the beach" you could make a safer assumption that they are talking about the beach for the ocean that is closest to them. Because there is a beach close to them, someone living close to an ocean would be more likely to need to say "I want to go to a beach" in order to convey the idea that they want to take a vacation somewhere.

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"I want to go to the beach / the lake"

In this sentence, the speaker assumes that the listener is aware of the specific beach that she would want to go.

"I want to go to a beach / a lake"

In this sentence, the speaker tells the listener about her desire to go to a beach. This could be any beach.

"I want to go to beaches / lakes"

This sentence implies that the speaker desires to go to multiple beaches. However, the sentence doesn't sound quite right to me (feel free to correct me).

I find this no different than say,

1.I want to read the book. 2.I want to read a book. 3.I want to read books.

Now coming to your question

Now, when we say "I want to go to the beach / the lake", does it refer to a specific beach?

Yes.

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When you say:

"I want to go to the beach / the lake"

You are referring to a specific beach/lake which is already known to the listener or which has been previously mentioned, introduced, or discussed because "the" is the definitive article.

Whereas when you say:

I want to go to a beach / a lake

You are using the indefinite article which you use when talking about something in general which is not a specific thing. Meaning you don't care which one you go to as long as it is a beach/lake.

And finally, when you say:

"I want to go to beaches/lakes"

You are stating that you want to go and visit multiple, non specific beaches/lakes, maybe if you're on a road trip or holiday.

I hope this answers your question.

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