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The cat is a small, furry animal with four legs and a tail.

A mobile phone is a portable telephone that can make and receive calls over a radio frequency link while the user is moving within a telephone service area.

The donut is a small, circular cake, fried in hot fat, either with a hole in the middle or filled with jam.

Why is the definite article used in the first sentence but not in the second and the third ones, since we talk about any cat, any phone and any donut, or, in other words, about the categories "cat"/"phone"/"donut"?

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    There's possibly a reasonable question here, but some seem to think that the choice of which generic construction to use is pretty arbitrary. I'll give my thinking. 'The' in the first sentence seems to pay a certain respect or at least familiarity to the often-loved critter. 'A' seems less personal, more formal, and more harmonious with the technoblurb that follows. Apr 15 at 11:45
  • Related: Definite article and generic uses Apr 15 at 11:45
  • 2
    It's a common usage to refer to an animal with the definite article to mean 'the species in general'. Apr 15 at 12:00
  • One more example: The donut is a small, circular cake, fried in hot fat, either with a hole in the middle or filled with jam.
    – zhabometr
    Apr 15 at 12:11
  • What if the doughnut has cream filling?
    – Davo
    Apr 16 at 18:44
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GENERAL
1) The cat is a small, furry animal with four legs and a tail.
A cat is a small, furry animal with four legs and a tail.
Cats are small, furry animals with four legs and a tail.

2) A mobile phone is a portable telephone that can make and receive calls.
Mobile phones are portable telephone that can make and receive calls.
The mobile phone etc. same thing.
3) The donut is a small, circular cake, fried in hot fat, either with a hole in the middle or filled with jam.

Same thing: "A donut is" or "Donuts are".

General Style:

When talking about a category of animal or thing, one can use the to indicate the category:

The lion is a noble beast.

That use of "the" is more formal. However, the meaning of the example with the and the meaning using A lion or Lions would be the same thing. If you were writing a science article about a genus of plant, you would probably use:

The lily is native to [etc]. For example. Rather than Lilies or A lily.

The mobile telephone was a late, 20th c. invention.

Lastly, in speaking, one does not generally use the "the" version unless you are giving a speech.

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