I found this sentence on the British Council website. I don't know why "the" is used in the sentence because all of the nouns seem indefinite:

Imagine a beach; a quiet place, with only the noise of the sea and the gulls in the background.

  • 1
    'In the background' is a set phrase. It carries a hint of definiteness, as do 'in the air' and 'in the meantime', suggested by the context (the beach in your imagination; the bit of sky surrounding you; the time interval between the fixed points). Similarly 'the sea' (by your notional beach). 'The gulls' carries a fainter hint (and assumes that your imagination, and that the beaches you're familiar with, are fairly predictable). 'The noise of the sea' is specifying which noise and so uses 'the' before 'noise'. Compare 'the sound of music'; 'the rise and fall of Reginald Perrin'. Sep 8 '17 at 10:48
  • This seems dated; I'd say the semicolon usage is non-standard nowadays. Sep 8 '17 at 10:49
  • @EdwinAshworth The sound of music, The rise and fall of Reginald Perrin You're practically giving away your security and national health insurance number there :) P.S Why don't you post your comment as an answer, it's very good.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 8 '17 at 10:52
  • @ Mari-Lou My great great grandparents used to.... / I'm pretty sure these will have been covered here before – and that it would take weeks to track down duplicates. Also, that the 'the gulls' example would be hard to provide corroboration for. Sep 8 '17 at 11:00
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    Why do you say "the definite article used" rather than "a definite article used"?
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 9 '17 at 2:36

Once you restrict the sentence to the beach that you're imagining, all the related objects become definite -- you're referring specifically to the objects related to that beach. So it becomes "the sea" because you're only talking about the one sea connected to that beach, and "the noise" because it's just the noise of that one sea.


As soon as you say Imagine a beach you can refer to things usually found or associated with a (any) beach using the definite article.

The same for anything: it was an old house and the front door creaked and the walls needed painting and the roof had holes in it and the owner was nowhere to be found.

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