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I was watching a video and became curious about the use of definite article :

at 1:23

"Little does he know he's just taking the bait for the big bust"

Link to Chris Rock - True Stories of the Justice Squad - YouTube

at 1:23

I am wondering about the exact reason the definite article (instead of indefinite article "a") was used here: my guess is that "the" here means that the listeners know that he would be arrested in the end of the show story? Or does it mean that we know that in what fashion the big bust is done for this kind of things (like the way cops arrest this type of big gang boss)

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In this context it sounds like we're looking at it from the criminal's point of view ("little does he know"). For any given crime, there would only be one "big bust" because that would put an end to the crime. So for this criminal, it's the only bust that concerns him. "The big bust"

If we were looking at it from the police perspective, they deal with several crimes and perform several busts. So they might just look at this as one of many. "A big bust"

  • Thank you so much for your kind answer! your answer really helped me understand the intuitive feeling to the usage of "the" in this context. – BangolPhoenix Jul 4 '18 at 11:01
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It's important to remember that not every use of the definite article signifies foreknowledge, or even uniqueness. For example, I can say:

The lion is the king of the jungle.

or:

The band's percussion section will practice on the drums in the morning.

without any prior mentions of wild animals, jungles, or drum sets, and the sentences still sound grammatical, idiomatic, and well-formed.

I often encourage learners to sift through the various uses of the definite article found in a good dictionary to see how the word the has many uses. Macmillan contains this gem of a definition, which could explain a lot of instances that might puzzle a learner:

the - used when you are referring to familiar things that people deal with regularly :
I looked up at the ceiling. Suddenly all the lights went out.

Incidentally, there are times when either the or a could be used, with little shift in meaning or nuance. I believe you've found one of them in Chris Rock's routine:

"Little does he know he's just taking the bait for the big bust"

"Little does he know he's just taking the bait for a big bust"

Either sentence means, "Little does he know he's about to get arrested."

I think it sounds just a smidgeon funnier with the, because, worded that way, the situation seems like more like an inevitability; however, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a dictionary definition that says:

the - used when describing something seemingly inevitable : the big traffic jam at the end of the day

I think that's a legitimate usage, though. The OED includes this definition, and it's not far off:

the - Before a noun, used to indicate a particular instance that is most relevant in this context :
Are you going down to the house?

  • J.R, thank you so much for your time and effort put to this answer!:) I think you pointed out the most relevant meaning of the word "the" in this context, which is "inevitability." Together with another answer I am able to grasp the meaning more clearly. As you recommended, I think I should look up words in a dictionary more often. – BangolPhoenix Jul 4 '18 at 10:57

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