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I keep hearing people say "stuff in the mail", but I never hear anyone say "stuff in the email". Why? For example, can you say "Check for coupons that come in the email"?

The way I learned to use "the" is that when you referring to something already mentioned or something you can point to, like that/the car that is parked on our driveway. But sometimes, you just say "the" to refer to some invention in general like "the email has became so popular that everyone is expected to have one". Here, "the email" refers to the email client everyone is using like Gmail.

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I would reframe your usage of "the". Instead of referring to something you've referenced before, "the" deals with specificity. In other words:

  • "A" candy bar : I ate a candy bar. This tells you what happened with no context.

  • "The" candy bar: I ate the candy bar. This not only tells you what happened, but also something about the candy bar itself: it had some sort of significance (e.g. it belonged to someone else, or it came out of the garbage can; anything that sets it apart from any other candy bar that you could be referring to).

Returning to your original question, when you're talking about "the mail", it's a sort of nebulous concept that refers to all postage of any kind. Thus, "check the mail" is more like "be on the lookout in every area where you might receive a letter and/or a package". "The email", on the other hand, refers to a specific instance of an electronic correspondence. So saying, "Check the email for the coupons," is perfectly valid if you're talking about one email.

In this instance, "email" is analogous to "letter".

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