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Usually, 'the' is used when talking about something specific. Not in these cases

I watched TV in the evening.

means evening in general, not some specific evening necessarily.

We had a barbecue on Sunday evening.

means a specific evening, not any evening. It's some basic, first-grade stuff. And yet, I still can't fully grasp it because it makes no sense to me. Please explain without resorting to lame things like 'it's a phrase', 'it's a convention', 'it's just how we speak', etc.

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  • I'm afraid that may not be possible! Sunday evening usually means the evening of last Sunday. We sometimes say the Sunday evening to mean Sunday of the particular week we are talking about (past or future). I watched TV in the evening means the evening of the day I am talking about. Admittedly, we can also say I usually watch TV in the evening to mean any evening. – Kate Bunting Sep 4 '20 at 12:33
  • I've added the tag "generic noun phrases", you might look it up. In some cases the use of an article (a, the) makes a phrase generic. It's very interesting. – CowperKettle Jan 8 at 2:52
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In the first sentence, the use of "the evening" implies that the speaker/writer expects the listener/reader to know which evening is meant. Generally this is done through context.

For example, if the preceding sentence is "I went hiking in the morning, and worked in the afternoon", then the implication is that it is the same day. If the preceding sentence is a TV detective asking for an alibi for a murder, the implication is the evening is which ever evening the murder occurred.

Note that your second sentence isn't necessarily specific either. Every seventh day is a "Sunday", so it is not absolutely specific. Which "Sunday" the second sentence refers to must be inferred. However, Sunday is specific in the context of a specific week.

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  • "I read a book in the evenings" please apply this logic here – Sergey Zolotarev Sep 4 '20 at 16:50
  • The logic still applies. Speaker expects you to know which evenings--in this case, it's probably "all of them" or "each of them" as opposed to "one of them." When the speaker assumes the listener thinks like him/her, and assumes something is a shared experience, the X will be used like this quite a bit. – LawrenceC Feb 8 at 23:17
  • Now, if the speaker is telling you to do something, and says "I want you to come here in the evenings" - and you really don't want to come there every evening, that's when you ask--"Do you mean every evening?" or you can say "I can't come here every evening, which evenings do you prefer" or something like that. – LawrenceC Feb 8 at 23:18

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