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I want to find some examples when article "the" changes meaning of an expression, can you help me and give some examples?

E.g.

I'm in the school.

Means I am in the building.

I'm in school.

Means that I'm a student.

In bed.

Refers to customary activities undertaken while someone is on the way to sleep.

In the bed.

Less likely to denote customary activity associated with sleeping and more likely to denote other activities.

It's not a duplicate of this question because it's not about the usage of a/an,zero or the article, it is about how an article can change meaning of a certain expression.

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    Possible duplicate of Articles: When do I use "a", "the", or "__"? – Jason Bassford Mar 23 at 23:36
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    I think this is sufficiently different from the linked questiuon that it should not be closed as a duplicate. – David Siegel Mar 24 at 0:41
  • It's not a duplicate of this question because it's not about the usage of a/an,zero or the article, it is about how an article can change meaning of a certain expression. – Hopper Mar 24 at 20:52
  • This only applies to a relatively small set of nouns like church or prison, but "why" questions are rarely useful, and are better-suited to our sister site, English Language & Usage. The likely answer you would receive there, however, is "that's just how English evolved." Natural languages are not created by committees to follow logical or even merely predictable rules. English is particularly inconsistent because it has inherited so much from other languages and has so many different branches spoken all around the world. – choster Mar 26 at 19:48
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I am going to the jail. (You are going to a building where prisoners are held.)

I am going to jail. (Implies that you are in trouble with the law and are going to be locked up).

The next example might be considered slang usage:

Are you John Smith? (Is John Smith your name?)

Are you the John Smith? (It implies that you are a specific person of whom the questioner has prior knowledge. Probably used more often in connection with celebrities. ) Note that when using the in this manner, you must pronounce it with a long ē sound (like thee).

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When you use the word "the" in this context, it usually has a "the one and only" connotation. For example:

"Can you pass me a pencil?" - Can you pass me any pencil, none in particular

"Can you pass me the pencil?" - Can you pass me that one specific pencil (the one we've been using)

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The articles may change the meaning of the sentence if their noun can have different meanings (or if the nouns can change their meaning while used in expressions).

Example:

  • school = a building where education takes place;
  • school = the system which provides education;

But:

  • bottle = container for some liquid
  • bottle = (no other meaning)

A bottle will remain a bottle regardless of the article (as far as I can think of right now).

I need a bottle.

or:

I need the bottle.

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