There's a rule that when we use a noun generically, we either put the definite article in front of it or use the plural form:

  1. The tiger is in danger of becoming extinct.
  2. Tigers are in danger of becoming extinct.

However, I applied this rule to plant names in one of my posts on Lang-8, and it didn't work. Here's a native speaker's correction; marked with an underscore is the place I had originally put the definite article.

In contrast, a compound called myrcene, abundant in _ dill and wild rosemary, was harder for bees to pick up.

I've already seen this omission before. You could google, for example, the Wikipedia article about garlic mustard — it doesn't use any articles in front of the species name.

Why is it so? Is there no article because it's considered a proper name of sorts? Why doesn't that work in the tiger example, then?


This is a rather complicated issue. Your examples are from M.Swan's PEU, aren't they? But look how Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik in A Communicative Grammar of English treat it:

The also has a generic use, referring to what is general or typical for a whole class of objects.This is found with count nouns: The tiger is one of the big cats; it is rivalled only by the lion in strength and ferocity. [1] Here the tiger indicates tigers in general, not one individual. Thus [1] expresses essentially the same meaning as [2] and [3]: Tigers have no mane. [2] A tiger has no mane. [3]

[2] is the generic use of the indefinite plural form; [3] is the generic use of the indefinite singular.

When we are dealing with a whole class of objects as here, the differences between definite and indefinite, singular and plural, tend to lose their importance. But there is a slight difference in the fact that the tiger (generic) refers to the species as a whole, while a tiger (generic) refers to any member of the species. We can say:

The tiger is in danger of becoming extinct.

Tigers are in danger of becoming extinct.

BUT NOT : *A tiger is in danger of becoming extinct.

I'm not a native speaker, so it's rather puzzling to me too.


If the noun is a count noun, we can refer to it generically either in the plural or with the definite article:

The tiger is endangered.

Tigers are endangered.

If the noun is non-count, we can refer to it generically without an article:

Dill grows wild in this area.

The compound myrcene is found in dill and rosemary.

Note, however, that we can cast a non-count noun as a count-noun when the situation requires:

Some varieties of dill are more pungent than others. These more pungent dills are often used in pickling.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.