Should I use definite article before "tears"? In Queen's "Somebody to love" song they use it for some reason:

I get down on my knees and I start to pray till THE tears run down from my eyes

Is it exception to the rule or there is a rule that says to put it here?

2 Answers 2


It's like saying:

I get headaches most days after work. Tonight I came home and the headaches started up again.

The fact that there are headaches is established in the first sentence as a general thing. Then, the definite article can be used to refer to them in the second sentence.

This is the fourth line from the Queen song:

(Take a look at yourself in the mirror and cry)
Take a look in the mirror and cry

It establishes a sense of somebody who cries. Therefore, there are tears. These are not a single instance of tears, but tears in general.

By the time we get to the lyric in question, it's no surprise that there is crying (and more tears):

I work hard (he works hard) every day of my life
I work 'til I ache my bones
At the end (at the end of the day)
I take home my hard-earned pay all on my own (goes home on his own)
I get down (down) on my knees (knees)
And I start to pray (praise the Lord)
'Til the tears run down from my eyes, Lord

Just as we can say that the headaches start up again, this person is praying and crying until the tears start up again. The pain is back. The tears are back.

In some cases, however, the definite article can be used without ever having established anything beforehand:

The drinking water from my taps doesn't taste that bad.

The drinking water is not something particular (it's not this glass of water as opposed to that glass of water)—but it is something identified in context. It's the drinking water from my taps.

Similarly, in the song, it's the tears that happen when the person is home, feeling sad, and crying.

It's not a specific object, but an identified idea that has an ongoing existence with multiple instances.

  • That really makes sense! Didn't think about it in that way.
    – pensnarik
    Jan 9, 2019 at 7:35

It could be either way. It's just like the definite article in other situations. If he doesn't have any particular tears in mind, just tears in general, then "tears run down from my eyes."

But if he is thinking of a certain specific set of tears (sounds silly I know), like maybe the tears that he is crying on that particular occasion, then "THE tears run down from my eyes." In other words, we know what tears he is talking about, but the emphasis is on the fact that they are running down from his eyes. Sometimes the presence or absence of the definite article can significantly change the meaning of your statement, but in the present case (of his tears), it makes no real difference.

So, the point is: [picky, picky, picky.] The song would mean the same thing with or without "the", and either way sounds great.

  • "specific set of tears" is still blowing my mind, cannot get it...
    – pensnarik
    Jan 9, 2019 at 4:32
  • Well, sorry, ... in the case of tears, the distinction is really pretty meaningless, but that's the way "the" usually works. In this situation too, ...but I see what you mean: "a tear is a tear."
    – Lorel C.
    Jan 9, 2019 at 4:35
  • 1
    Example: "I collected tears into a cup. I took the tears with me." This is an example of particular tears for me. But how can tears running down from somebody's eyes be particular?
    – pensnarik
    Jan 9, 2019 at 4:50

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