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Let's say my friend gave me a task to find something in a book.

  1. I opened the book and started looking through the chapters to find the answer

  2. I opened the book and started looking through the pages to find the answer

  3. I opened the book and started looking through sentences to find the answer

  4. I opened the book and started looking through words to find the answer

According to some linguists, the use of "the" can depend on how strongly the noun in question is expected in a given context. For example, when I am talking about a particular book, it's highly likely that I should say "the chapters" or "the pages".(the ones that are in this book) Because chapters and pages are quite an important part of any book and it's one of the likely associations that come to mind when we hear the word "book". (same goes for "car" and "the wheels", for example")

My belief is that the best choice of articles here is "the books" and "the chapters" but zero for "sentences" and "words" because they are less closely associated with the concept of book (or maybe it has to deal with words and sentences being too numerous and seemingly infinite in a given book i.e. we can't imagine even an approximate amount of them)

What are the best choices of articles in these 4 sentences? the/the/zero/zero?

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I disagree. We expect to find all of those items (chapters, pages, sentences, words) in a book. Therefore, I would include the definite article in all four sentences.

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  • Thank you! The same would go for "letters" aswell, I suppose? Dec 25, 2022 at 7:27
  • @Mr.PastProgressive You're welcome! Yes, you should also say "the letters" to indicate the letters found specifically in the book. Dec 25, 2022 at 7:30
  • Can I ask you about another example? I opened an excel document and started filling in (the?) cells I suppose "cells" are also expected when I mention "an excel document", thus, I should use THE, right? Dec 25, 2022 at 7:36
  • @Mr.PastProgressive You're getting into some subtle distinctions, and I'm sure that there is a rule written somewhere that covers this but I don't know where. (Perhaps Longman Student Grammar or a similar book?) In certain situations the definite article is optional, as with your Excel example or: "The police entered the house and started searching rooms." In other cases omitting the article would be incorrect or change the meaning, as with the book example or: "While watching the play, I paid close attention to the characters on stage." Unfortunately I can't give the rule offhand. Dec 25, 2022 at 8:04
  • No worries, you don't have to explain anything, I am asking questions just to gather data for my research, I'm not trying to catch you on subtle inconsistencies and I appreciate you finding time to respond. I also have a similar example in mind: "I went on youtube and started scrolling through videos" - I think both are ok here, but you would probably use zero, is that right? (although videos are expected, as well rooms in your example and cells in mine) Dec 25, 2022 at 8:30

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