We should use "the" when I am talking about a definite item and it makes sense if both me and my listeners know which item I mean. And again I should use "the" when there is only one of that thing. But the following sentences really confused me.

1-Think about the movies you like to watch or the books you like to read.

2-Is there any way to count the number of movies one has seen?

(Why we are using "the" in this sentences. The writers of this sentences don't know which movies I like or don't know the number of movies one has seen ?)

2 Answers 2


In OP's first example...

1a: Think about the movies you like to watch or the books you like to read

...the highlighted definite articles are completely optional, and most people would probably say that...

1b: Think about movies you like to watch or books you like to read

...means exactly the same thing. But if I had to make a distinction (which I wouldn't normally want to do), it's that the "article-less" version #1b could be thought of as talking about the kind of movies / books that you like to watch / read, whereas #1a is explicitly referring to the particular, specific movies / books that you like.

The second example is different...

2: Is there any way to count the number of movies one has seen?

To be grammatical, this one must include an article. In principle it could actually be the indefinite article (a number of movies), but in practice for the exact context as given, we just wouldn't do that, since there's definitely only one specific number being referenced. Even though we don't know the value of that number, it's contextually relevant that it has a specific value.

On the other hand, in a context such as...

3: I have seen a number of movies

...we always use the indefinite article. Note that this one is an idiomatic usage, where a number [of X's] actually means quite a lot (not very many, but definitely more than a few).

In which context it's also worth noting that quite a few has the same meaning. I imagine it might seem odd to some native speakers that quite a few usually implies a lot, whereas plain a few means not many, and quite a lot usually implies more than "a few", but less than "a lot".

  • Thanks, I have one more question. Is the using of "the" in the following examples just more idiomatic and there is no specific thing behind them ? Examples:At the beginning of every lesson / The last pages of a book / The first pages of a book Mar 19, 2019 at 17:41
  • I'm not able to outline any kind of "rule" defining why the article is essentially necessary in all those examples. But it is necessary, so I don't think you can really say it's "just more idiomatic" to include it. Perhaps your own language doesn't have (or doesn't often use) articles in ways similar to English. But it's all quite complicated, because there are a lot of different contexts where things work in a variety of different ways. Just don't assume it's always about whether something has been mentioned earlier, or whether there's definitely only one thing involved. Mar 19, 2019 at 17:55

I have seen a lot of movies but I don't know the number I have seen because I have never counted them.

In other words, it has nothing to do with what I know or what someone else knows. It is enough that there is a unique number, even if no-one knows what it is.


Nobody knows the number of stars in the Universe.

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