In the following sentence:

You can start with carrying at any age of the child.

I'm not talking about a specific child but the indefinite article sounds awful to me.

Which one is better?

The same problem with this sentence:

The relationship between the mother and her child already starts in pregnancy.

The word mother sounds to me with the definite article better, but also I'm not talking about a specific mother.

  • What makes you think you need to be talking about a specific mother or child? It sounds to me like you might have Definite Article Meaning Syndrome. (By the way, as a side note, I think your second sentence sounds better with no article: The relationship between mother and child begins during pregnancy.)
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 15:48
  • The Mother is a countable noun, so some article is needed. Or not?
    – trenccan
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 17:24
  • 1
    Definitely not. Consider: The strong attachment between mother and child is claimed to depend on the mother's prolonged, intimate, and private contact with the baby immediately after birth (Faulkner, 1991). The interaction between mother and child is an important and dynamic process (Shelton et al., 2014). The literature of parapsychology often emphasizes the frequent occurrence of telepathy between parent and child, and especially between mother and child (Hamaker-Zondag, 1991). In terms of core characteristics, the tale is complete when father and son are reunited... (Horton, 2000).
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 17:38
  • @J.R. I believe you, but in every English book that I have read is stated that countable nouns cannot be without an article. How can I know that I can omit an article before countable nouns?
    – trenccan
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 18:41
  • Many nouns can be used in different ways, where in some contexts they act as countable nouns, and in other contexts, they don't. The word mother is especially tricky, as sometimes it is treated like a countable noun, but other times it functions almost as a title or role. For example, I might say: A cesarean section may be required when the life of the mother is in danger. In that sentence, I would not omit the article.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 20:38

1 Answer 1


As you guess, the use of the definite article with nouns that carry some kind of emotional attachment (like child or mother) sounds a little impersonal. Actually this is the intended nuance. The definite article removes the emotional attachment, allowing the speaker to talk as an unaffected observer:

During the brief war, the father of the family left to fight with the partisans. They never saw him again.

Of course, it's not always this dramatic, and as the reader you may still feel some kind of emotional response, in the appropriate context.

This kind of thing is common in scientific writing where "the subjects" of the study are meant to be observed and measured impartially and objectively. In this context there is no negative connotation of "the mother" or "the child". It's merely a statement that expresses certain facts.

  • So, it would be ok if I used the definite article in those sentences?
    – trenccan
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 6:08

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