When omitted, is it understood? And has the same meaning of generalizing, while the definite article “the” has the particularizing role?

There is the famous quote of Oscar Wilde’s “The importance of being Earnest”: “When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people.”

I would like to know whether there are some other options to formulate these sentences (writing or omitting “a” and “the”) without changing the meaning.

  • 1
    Your title is about the indefinite article, but your example only uses the definite article. It is unclear what sentences you are talking about and in general, what you are asking? Using the indefinite article does usually change the meaning of a sentence, if that is what you want to know. – oerkelens Feb 5 '14 at 12:11
  • @oerkelens, "When one is in town..." can be replaced with "When one is in a town..."? is the indefinite article "a" omitted in this sentence? have these two examples the same meaning? Or is the definite article omitted such as: "When one is in the town..."? – Lucian Sava Feb 5 '14 at 12:31
  • No, they do not. When you are in a town, you are visiting a specific place. Being in town is idiomatic, like being downtown. Being in a town just means you are physically present within the confines a a town. Being in town means that your presence is felt, you are interacting with people and in Wilde's quote, your role changes as compared to being in the country. (Compare being in the country with "being in a country...) – oerkelens Feb 5 '14 at 12:36
  • @LucianSava "in town" is a common expression, similar to "at home", "by car", etc. We usually treat these nouns (in such expressions) as uncountables, without articles. – Damkerng T. Feb 5 '14 at 12:37

When one is in town one amuses oneself.
When one is in the country one amuses other people.

Here, "in town" means "being in a town-like environment, it does not mean simply being present within the confines of a town. I could very well be in a town without being "in town".

In the country here refers to the rustic area's outside cities and towns, not to a nation.

A country in this sentence would imply a nation. Without an article (when one is in country), the sentence would not be grammatical.

For the sake of completeness: the country can refer to a nation:

When you visit a country you pass the border. You are abroad now; let me know when you are back in the country!

  • 1
    +1 Actually, in this particular case, "in town" means "in London" - a common expression among the gentry who maintained both London and country households. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 5 '14 at 14:14

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