I know that in the sentence "the computer was invented in 1947", the use of "the" there is generic. Also, I understand that we often use "the" this way as generic for nouns of animal, plant, and inventions.

My question is, is the generic use of "the" only limited to nouns of animal, plant, and inventions? Or, can we use "the" as generic as long as when we want to mean a specific genus among other genera?

To expand on my question above, the following is an extract from an NY Times article. "Another corporate structure being exploited now more than ever is the master limited partnership." Here, the author put "the" before "master limited partnership" even though the concept was first introduced. Is it also a case of the generic use of "the"?

  • 1
    Yes, it is used as you say, a specific genus among other genera.
    – TimR
    Oct 1, 2014 at 15:40
  • could yo answer to my other questions above in detail?
    – user87725
    Oct 1, 2014 at 16:18
  • "Invention" is a very broad term (it encompasses any novel idea or practice) or a very narrow one (something that can receive patent-protection, such as the cotton gin). You can use the word "the" to treat virtually any noun as a specific genus among other genera: the triple-lutz, the life sentence, the 401k investment plan, etc.
    – TimR
    Oct 1, 2014 at 16:40
  • @TimRomano I agree with "a specific genus among other genera". To OP, in other words, it's "a specific (or unique) instance of a class (or a set, or a category, whichever that can help you visualize it)".) Imo, this is not technically generic. A specific (or unique) class or set is still specific, even though it could mean something abstract or could cover other instances of the class or elements of the set. (A set can be an element in another set, anyway.) This by no means implies that the implies specific or unique, or that specific or unique implies the. The is about definite. Oct 1, 2014 at 16:58
  • @Damkerng T: Phrases such as "the triple-lutz" are not necessarily referring to a specific instance of the jump done by a particular Olympic skater at a particular Olympics, but to the generic leap. The leap in that instance is a type of leap among types of leaps. The triple-lutz is a difficult jump. Or He has being nailing his program so far. But here comes the triple-lutz.
    – TimR
    Oct 1, 2014 at 20:05

2 Answers 2


I think part of your confusion may stem from the multiple ways in which partnership can be used. Under one definition, partnership may refer to the general idea of a cooperative relationship, or to one's status of being a business partner. Here, partnership is uncountable, and would not take the definite article.

Partnership is an important marketing avenue for small businesses.

Marriage, traditionally, lies at the nexus of procreation and partnership.

Under another, countable, definition, partnership refers to an example of partnership, whether formal or not, and can take a definite article.

The partnership between Kraft and Starbucks ended acrimoniously.

Like the other accountants, she was saving every penny, planning to buy into the partnership the next year.

But in your example, partnership refers to a type of legal structure— one of many, like the limited liability company or the voluntary cooperative. You can interpret the here as indicating a particular type of limited partnership.

The use of articles is highly idiosyncratic, but saying it is used to genericize "animal, plant, and inventions" is not very helpful. The sea is none of those things, and neither is the past, for example. Moreover, invention is an exceptionally broad term that can refer to any human creation, and while we can speak of the quickstep (as one type of dance) or the republic (as one type of government), we would not say the golf (as one type of game) or the polyethylene (as one type of synthetic material) in the same way.


Generic vs Specific:

The first time you speak of something use "a or an", the next time you repeat that object use "the".

I live in a house. The house is quite old and has four bedrooms.

I ate in a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant was very good.

Another corporate structure being exploited now more than ever is the master limited partnership."

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