My gears are grinded any time I read "we specialize in the Blockchain" and "such language runs on the JVM" etc.

If there are more than one specific thing, why not use "Blockchains" or "JVMs"?

  • Because there are JVMs and then there is the JVM, the biggest, most prominent, most used, most salient, and in most cases the only one people even know about. It’s an outlier by orders of magnitude. Same thing with the Bitcoin blockchain. It’s “the” because it’s “the” one most people mean when they use the word without further qualification.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 17:55
  • I get about 5 hits on Google for "we specialize in the Blockchain", none of which I can see using 'Blockchain' other than as as an attributive noun (eg "We specialize in the blockchain industry"). Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 17:58
  • in the Blockchain without a noun is an English mistake.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 17:59
  • Wait. Grinded? Are you sure? Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 6:04

2 Answers 2


The definite article "the" has nothing to do with uniqueness. It identifies a specific item. With "Place the book on the third step", we are indicating a specific book, and we are identifying a specific location - even though many books exist and many staircases exist containing a third step.


Ditto @EdwardBarnard, but let me add a point or maybe just restate what he said a different way.

The word "the" does not mean that the thing we are referring to is the only one of its kind in the universe. It means it is a particular instance that we have previously identified or that should be clear from context.

For example, suppose someone writes, "A cat walked onto my porch. I gave the cat a bowl of milk." Note "the cat". The use of the word "the" does not mean that this is the only cat that has ever existed in the interest of the world. It means that it is the cat that I am talking about right now, presumably the one that walked onto my porch.

Notice how the article switches from "a" in the first sentence to "the" in the second. In the first sentence, I have not previously identified the cat, so it could be any cat. It is "a cat". But now that I have identified it, for the rest of the discussion it becomes "the cat".

  • I hope this answer gets accepted. The original question was about "the" identifying something as unique when it isn't. Jay's example of "a" becoming "the" shows the exact usage, meaning, intent. Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 18:53

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