The+ singular before a relative clause to state a general statement.

(1)In some countries, more and more people are becoming interested in finding out about the history of the house they live in.

(2)Consumers pay advertising costs for the product they buy.

(3)In some countries, more and more people are paying more attention to the meal they have.

As I see, (1),(2) and (3) have the same context, and have the same structure (the+singular+relative clause) as a general statement. That are "the house they live" , "the product that they buy" and " the meal they have".

I asked native speakers, they said only (1) works, I don't know why (2) doesn't work.

I understand that in (1) they want to say that each person lives in 1 house. So we can use "the house". And In (2) refer to each time people buy a product. But when I apply the same logic, each person pays attention to each time they have a meal, then it doesn't work. Could you tell me the reason?

1 Answer 1


How many houses do you normally live in? Probably one.

How many products do you normally buy? Many.

How many meals do you normally have? Probably three per day.

That's the difference. We assume that people only live in one house, so they can only be interested in learning the history of that one house they live in.

But people purchase many different products on a regular basis, and eat several meals per day, so it doesn't make sense to talk about the one and only product people ever buy, or the one meal people eat.

  • A native speaker tell me that I can even use " the product (singular)" as a general statement: (4) Consumers pay advertising costs for the product they buy. Here we use "the product" because we are considering a single product to be associated with each purchase. But why we can't use "the meal (singular)" with the exact same context: (5)Consumers pay advertising costs for the meal they buy. I explained that I use "the meal" because I am considering a single meal to be associated with each time we buy a meal. But it seems that (5) is not considered a correct sentence.
    – LE123
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 8:28
  • I don't know the reason. Could you help me explain?
    – LE123
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 8:41
  • 1
    It's possible to use the singular, but not with present simple. People simply do not buy one product in general. Present continuous works: "A consumer is paying advertising costs for the product they are buying". The same structure can be used with "the meal".
    – gotube
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 18:31
  • How about this sentence “ The consumer pays the advertising costs of the product that they buy.”
    – LE123
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 23:39
  • 1
    @LEHANH I can't give you a ranked list, partly because I wouldn't know how to make one, and partly because it depends highly on context. If that conversation were happening at McDonald's headquarters, using "the meal" as an abstract concept would be quite natural.
    – gotube
    Commented Nov 20, 2022 at 16:45

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