It was the Greek philosopher Plato who said that music gave “soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life”. According to the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, it was the “shorthand of emotion”. (From “Objective IELTS Advanced” M. Black, p. 40).

Why is the definite article used before “Russian writer Leo Tolstoy” instead of the indefinite (after all, there are many Russian writers)?

  • 2
    Actually I think the lack of the definite article before "Greek philosopher" is incorrect, or at least inconsistent. Are you sure you transcribed correctly? There are a number of grammatical and spelling mistakes. The quote should be “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” or at least something similar. Plato wrote in Greek, after all, and it's up to the translator to interpret.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jul 21, 2018 at 16:19
  • I’ve edited the question. I beg your pardon for my mistakes. However, before “soul to the universe” there is no article in the original source.
    – Zak
    Commented Jul 21, 2018 at 16:47

1 Answer 1


According to the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, it was the “shorthand of emotion”. (From “Objective IELTS Advanced” M. Black, p. 40).

The "the" is used because there is only one Leo Tolstoy. The fact he is Russian is not the reason "the" is used.

Compare that to: According to a writer from France, [blah blah blah].

Which means: A writer from France as opposed to a writer from some other place.

Also, at times, the article can be left out, and the press usually does this:

According to Russian writer [full name].....

Academic writing would tend to write: according to the Russian writer [full name], but it's a toss up.

Rule for using the with one of a thing, person or phenomenon:

1) the for one thing etc: The sun is shining

2) the: a full scoop: example of a unique thing, person, etc.

  • What do you mean by "The 'the' is used because there is only one Leo Tolstoy."? Please provide a more accurate explanation because I'm sure neither them nor you checked whether there's another Leo Tolstoy in the wild.
    – user3395
    Commented Jul 21, 2018 at 16:51
  • One of the rules for using the determiner the is: you use it when there is only one of a thing, person, phenomenon, etc. [England] "She arrived in London to see the Queen but arrived late at the palace due to traffic". [logic: England only has one queen, therefore, in that context, she is the Queen.Your objection based on there being another Leo Tolstoy is specious. See this and scroll down to: unique or thought to be unique: trussel.com/the.htm Any great writer is considered to be unique. Even if other people have that name.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 21, 2018 at 17:06
  • I just think it's not because they're unique but because we somehow know who they're talking about (this is what I'm asking of you to enlarge on). If we had a friend called Leo Tolstoy, who's also a Russian writer, would we assume they're talking about them rather than the Leo Tolstoy? I don't think we would, and the use of the definite article would still be felicitous because the definite article is used when the writer assumes the reader will know who or what they're writing about. Am I wrong?
    – user3395
    Commented Jul 21, 2018 at 17:28
  • I have addressed your issue. This use of ''the" with a unique thing or person is well attested and I even took the trouble to give two references. There is also context that matters as well. In the context, it can only be "the". Here, it could not be another Tolstoy because that one wouldn't be "the Tolstoy, which brings me to the idiom: You mean he is the John Travolta? Same thing. There idiom could not exist were it not for the the rule, in fact.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 21, 2018 at 17:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .