I was doing 'Articles' quiz at the following website: http://esl.fis.edu/grammar/multi/article1.htm

My questions are the following.

 1. Don't drink the water out of that tap. It's orange!

Why the is required here? How come water can be specific? The tap is specific, but not water. Please explain.

 2. Have you seen soap? - No, it should be on the sink.

Here, in my opinion we should prefix the with soap. How come it can be generic? It looks to me as if they are looking for a specific soap.

 3. I am worried about the health of my grandfather. He goes to the doctor every week.

Why the health? Health in my opinion is generic. How health can be specific here? Is he talking about specific health? How a specific health can exist?

 4. I cannot believe the luck he had winning all that money.

Why the is prefixed with luck? Luck is generic, it cannot be specific. Luck is good only. It cannot be classified into winning luck or marriage luck, etc.

 5. Many people think that beer they brew in Germany is the best in the world.

In my opinion, the should be prefixed with beer. We are taking about that beer, which means a specific beer. Please explain?

  • 1
    The opposition is general vs specific. You'd better not use the word generic here.
    – None
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 7:10
  • 3
    Yeah, you're right about #2 and #5. Both of those are better with the.
    – user230
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 15:34
  • 2
    2 and 5 should definitely have the. Especially 2. "Have you seen soap?" makes it sound like you're asking the person if they've ever seen soap or something (and it's not quite phrased right for that usage either). Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 10:29
  • 1
    @MaulikV Your (the) elephants would be categorized as "generic reference". To me, if you say "Have you seen soap?" in the sense of generic reference, it would imply "Have you seen soap before in your life?", which is very weird. Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 13:28
  • 1
    Also, things we familiarise or personalise often find themselves prefixed by "the". Consider "I need to go to the hospital". We would never say "a hospital in this context, even though we haven't chosen a particular hospital. This is generally because we consider there is only one (i.e. one hospital in a town). Also consider: "Yesterday we went to the park". Not "a park". Or: "I'm off to the library".
    – JMB
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 22:24

6 Answers 6


"Don't drink the water out of that tap. It's orange!"

Water is generic, but in the sentence above, the speaker is referring to water from tap. There could be water in a glass on the table or in a bottle. To distinguish tap water from water in other containers, the speaker used 'The'.

"Have you seen soap? - No, it should be on the sink"

The speaker just wants to use a soap, he is not asking about any particular soap. So no "The".

"I am worried about the health of my grandfather. He goes to the doctor every week"

Health is generic, but grandfather is not. The speaker is not talking about health of any random individual. To specify his grandfather's health, he used "The".

"I cannot believe the luck he had winning all that money"

Again the same thing. It's not luck in general, but luck of a particular individual. So "The".

"Many people think that beer they brew in Germany is the best in the world"

You are reading the sentence in a wrong way. You are reading it "Many people think, that beer they brew in Germany is the best in the world". It should actually be read ""Many people think that, beer they brew in Germany is the best in the world". How could the speaker talk about any particular category of beer when he doesn't know how many types of beer are being brewed in Germany?

  • 1
    In sentence #2: If it was generic soap, I think the answer should be more like: "No, there should be some on the sink". The answer suggest there is one specific soap, doesn't it?
    – S. A.
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 16:25
  • @HastaSiempre : The use of an indefinite article with a noun signifies that the noun is countable. Otherwise, uncountable nouns require either the definite article or no article at all. > "Have you seen soap? - No, it should be on the sink" I believe that this sentence does require the use of "the". Using "a soap" means that two soaps is also a valid derivative. But soap is not countable being a material noun. Hence the correct way of using it is as "a bar of soap" or "a bottle of liquid soap", the article "a" highlighting the bar or the bottle instead of the soap. The
    – GaidinD
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 20:50

I think #2 is just plain wrong. The question, Have you seen soap? suggests the speaker is just looking for any soap, not a particular soap. The response, No, it should be on the sink suggests the topic is some particular soap. These sound more natural to me:

Have you seen the soap? No, it should be on the sink.

Have you seen soap? No, some should be on the sink.

I might even go a step farther and say the question is odd. I'd almost expect this:

Have you seen soap? Of course. Do you think I grew up in a cave?

Given the more likely situation that the questioner has dirty hands and just needs soap, he's more likely to ask:

Have you seen some soap?

It's also quite possible that this conversation is taking place between people who live together, say a husband and wife. One might quite feasibly ask:

Have you seen the soap?

This works because the other person knows the house and probably can tell from context which particular soap the speaker is asking about. Is the speaker in the master bathroom? It's probably known to each of the people in this conversation that there's a particular soap that's usually in the master bathroom. For whatever reason, it can't be found.

You would not say Have you seen the soap? in a grocery store, for example. (Unless this is a grocery store you know very well, in which case the same reasoning applies.) In a store, just soap or some soap is more appropriate.

#5 could be interpreted many ways.

Perhaps the speaker isn't quite sure about the name of some particular German beer. You know that flap of skin between your nostrils?

It could be intentionally condescending or dismissive, as if the beer is so bad the speaker doesn't want to acknowledge it has a proper name. I wouldn't use that gadget if you paid me to do it. The speaker can't believe people like that German beer.

The that could also indicate a particular beer to which the speaker is pointing or nodding. The meaning is lost in non-verbal communication.

The that could be part of they think that .... In this case it could just be omitted and the meaning would be the same: Many people think beer they brew in Germany is the best in the world.

In this case, the presence or absence of the changes the meaning, sometimes in context dependent or subtle ways. Compare:

Some people say that the contestants from Germany are favored to win tonight.

Some people say that contestants from Germany are favored to win tonight.

The first says there are some contestants that happen to be from Germany that are favored to win, not necessarily because they are German. The second says that merely being German is an advantage.

If we are talking about beer, honestly I don't think there's any significant difference made by using the or not using it. One reason is that there are so many German beers. If we say that the particular German beers that we can go out and buy today are the best, then it's a reasonable assumption that there's something about German brewing in general that is better.

Also, good German beer is an actual thing that people do talk about (whether they agree or not), and beers are frequently categorized by their country of origin. People generally agree that a beer doesn't just "happen to be" German. Rather, being German necessarily implies some things about the style and taste of the beer. Thus, the two senses distinguished by the contest example above are equivalent.

I can do this to the contest example, also. Say I tell you that it's a German spelling contest. Now being German isn't just some attribute unrelated to the contest: being German necessarily implies you've been around German your whole life. Now the two cases are equivalent, and it doesn't really mater if you say German contestants or the German contestants. Technically, these mean two different things, but a person will think, "of course the specific German contestants participating in the contest today are favored to win because they are German". Thus, in terms of what people think, that is, what you have communicated, it is essentially the same thing.

  • Thank you for your answer. I enjoyed reading it, and your contestants examples are interesting. However, I think it would be better if you could explain the beer cases (both with and without the) explicitly. Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 23:31
  • @DamkerngT. answer expanded.
    – Phil Frost
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 23:46

I think that you are confused with the term generic and specific. When talk about generic, don't think about that thing/element in general if it is related to something/someone. It then does not remain generic but specific. However, though you are specific about some natural things, you still don't use the definite article the!

Don't drink the water out of that tap. It's orange! - Yes, as you thought 'water' is generic but then water from that tap is not! Rest all water is not orange!

And so on with rest of your examples.

Learning about the articles is indeed a complex thing but then try to remember a simple rule. If you and the person you are talking/writing to knows about what you are talking, use the definite article the. Nevertheless, don't consider it as the only rule but it'll help you decide many things in day-to-day talks.

"You come, I'm waiting in the car. - The person you are talking to knows which car you are talking about (i.e. that's your car) so it'll take the.


In the case of #2: Have you seen soap? It should be "the soap" because soap is very specific and you have to specify which soap you are referring too. #5 on the other hand is just the same, that beer, you must be reading it wrong. Just like HastaSiempre and that basically confuses me all the time.

Regarding water from the tap, it's actually right to use " the water" because in your case, we are referring to the water from the tap only, and not all the water.


Every one of the examples requires "the" (but see point 5) because every one of them is specific.

  1. "the water" = the water that comes from the tap. Compare with "Water is healthy."

  2. Have you seen the soap" = the soap that is usually kept on the sink or that one would expect to see there (but: "Do you have some soap?"). Compare with "Soap keeps you clean."

  3. "the health" = the health of a particular person (my grandfather). Compare with "Health is an important part of everyday life".

  4. "the luck" = that luck that he had in the instance(s) of winning. Compare with "Luck does not come easily."

  5. This is a trickier one. "the beer" = the particular beer(s) brewed in Germany, ie, German beer(s). "They" in the example also points to a particular: which beer? The beer they brew. The beer that who brews? The beer that Germans brew --> German beer. However, one could also say "Many people think that beer brewed in Germany is the best in the world". "the beer" is more natural sounding, because of the fact that we are specifically referring to the beer(s) brewed in Germany, not beer that is not brewed, or beer that is not brewed in Germany. (Although, above all, one would probably say "German beer is...").


Looking at all of the test questions in your link, I find the answers for the soap question and the German beer question to be wrong. "Have you seen soap?" asks whether you have ever seen soap before, not whether you have seen a missing bar of soap. "The beer that they brew in Germany" is a specific class of beer, although use of a generic "they" is an informal construct. While I would not say "beer that they brew in Germany" personally, "Beer that is brewed in Germany" and "The beer that is brewed in Germany" are both equally correct in my opinion.

All of the answers to the other test questions are correct, and I believe your questions have been well answered by others.

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