1

I have two sentences;

I'd like to have a piano.

I can't play the piano.

We saw a giraffe at the zoo.

The giraffe is my favourite animal.

Why don't we use 'the' in first sentence ? or Why don't we use 'a' in second sentence ?

What is the meaning here ?

2

a piano refers either to a real instrument or to the instrument in the abstract:

A piano was moved into the ballroom for the party. real but not identified in particular

A piano has strings inside its cabinet which are struck with small mallets. archetype, abstract

the piano can refer to a particular real piano or to the instrument in the abstract:

The piano in the hallway was moved into the ballroom for the party. a particular identified real piano

The piano requires considerable finger strength. archetype, abstract

Another way of referring to the instrument in the abstract (that is, not to any real piano or a particular real piano) is with the zero-article:

She plays piano. archetype, abstract

She knows how to play the instrument in the abstract, the instrument in the "class" piano; she can walk up to any piano and play it because each real piano conforms to the abstract idea of a piano. Its keys will have the same basic arrangement and will be activated by pressure etc etc.

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  • I can't figure out diffrence between "A piano has strings inside its cabinet which are struck with small mallets. archetype, abstract" and The piano requires considerable finger strength. archetype, abstract. @Tᴚoɯɐuo I think they are same. – Murat Can OĞUZHAN Oct 27 '18 at 19:25
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    A piano has keys and The piano has keys and Pianos have keys are all valid ways to refer to the instrument generally. We must consider the nature of the predicate and the context to determine whether the reference is to the idea or to an actual piano. A piano fell from the truck is not referring to the idea of 'piano' but to an actual one. We know that by the predicate, fell from the truck. The tiger has pointy teeth versus The tiger jumped. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 28 '18 at 10:37
  • Do you know which one is true and why ? "There was a piano in the corner of the room." or "There was the piano in the corner of the room." – Murat Can OĞUZHAN Oct 28 '18 at 20:35
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    Both are grammatical, idiomatic statements. The first is stating the presence of a piano in the corner of a room. The second is stating the presence of a particular piano in the corner of the room. Compare: I was looking for the piano I had played two years earlier when I visited the school. There was the piano in the corner of the room. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 29 '18 at 11:50
1

Your first sentence

I'd like to have a piano.

is correct if you want to have one of many available pianos, but if you said one of these

I'd like to have the piano.

I'd like to have this piano.

I'd like to have that piano.

it means you want a particular piano you have seen or know about.


Your second sentence

I can't play the piano.

would be equally good as

I can't play a piano.

I can't play piano.

But if you say one of

I can't play this piano.

I can't play that piano.

it means there is one piano which for some reason you can't play (perhaps faulty or out of tune), although you can play other pianos.

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  • additional: We saw a giraffe at the zoo -The giraffe is my favourite animal ? @Weather Vane – Murat Can OĞUZHAN Oct 25 '18 at 19:12
  • Both are correct. We saw a piano in the shop. The piano is my favourite instrument. But if you had just bought that piano and it is in your home, "We saw the/this/that piano in a music shop." – Weather Vane Oct 25 '18 at 19:12
  • a piano is for general statements: I'd like to have a dog. – Lambie Oct 25 '18 at 20:38
1

"Play the piano/violin/trumpet" (in a general sense) is an idiom: it does not imply a particular piano (violin, trumpet). So

I can't play the piano but I'd like one.

makes sense ("one" = "a piano")

but

I can't play the piano but I'd like it.

is at best ambiguous ("it" cannot mean "the piano", because the idiom does not specify a particular piano).

"The" is required in British English, but optional ("play piano") in American English: see Separated by a Common Language - she also discusses why this "the" is found.

Edit: Murat Can OĞUZHAN asks about 'The' in "The giraffe is my favourite animal.

To repeat my comment, "the giraffe" is a normal (though somewhat old-fashioned and literary) use of "the": "used to mark a noun as being used generically" - definition 5 here.

At first I thought this was a different phenomenon from "play the piano", particularly because almost all uses of generic "the" are in the subject position: I don't think anyone would say "I love the dog" to mean dogs in general. (I'm not sure about the acceptability of "Today I'm going to talk about the dog").

But I'm coming round to the view that it is the same. I can't find a difference between

The giraffe is my favourite aninmal.

and

The piano is my favourite instrument.

But there is still a difference in non-subject position.

I love the piano.

is normal, but

I love the giraffe.

is odd, to my ears, in the generic sense.

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  • I added new sentences. What do you think about them? (1-) We saw a giraffe at the zoo.2-) The giraffe is my favourite animal.)@Colin Fine – Murat Can OĞUZHAN Oct 27 '18 at 9:59
  • Your 2) is a normal (though somewhat old-fashioned and literary) use of "the": "used to mark a noun as being used generically" - definition 5. here. I'd never thought of "the piano" in "play the piano" the same way, but I suppose it might be the same. – Colin Fine Oct 27 '18 at 10:07

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