2

I suspect we have to use the definite article in the following sentence:

I've learned that the meaning of "to abuse" is to use something for bad purpose.

The sentence is constructed by me which means it can contain some grammatical errors. So, what is the right way to use articles here? I've read all of eight clauses in PEU about article but I can't explain that case in a precise way. It seems we have to use the because I'm talking about the particular meaning, and I myself know what is the meaning. In that way I want to show the listener, apparently has already known about that meaning, despite that may not be mentioned in the conversation erlier.

Am I right? Could you explain?

  • @CopperKettle Could you explain why do you replace "by me own" with "me"? The first case is gramatically wrong, is it? – Dmitrii Bundin Nov 4 '14 at 15:54
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    Dmitry, there exists an expression "on my own", not "by my own", and "on my own" does now work with the passive "is constructed". It works with active forms: "I've crafted this sentence on my own". Hence, one of the grammatical options here is "by me" (or "by yours truly", if you want to show off (0: ) – CowperKettle Nov 4 '14 at 15:57
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    @CopperKettle Is "by myself" allowed here? – Dmitrii Bundin Nov 4 '14 at 16:01
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    Good question! Myself is a reflexive pronoun (возвратное местоимение "сам"). One needs to google up "reflexive pronouns in passive voice". Probably it is grammatical, but a more natural way seems to be "I've done it (all) (by) myself", not "It was done by myself". But I feel it is likey an error to use "by myself" in passive structures. – CowperKettle Nov 4 '14 at 16:13
  • I've found one instance of "she was killed by herself", but the sentence means "all alone", not by her own hand. You can ask it as a separate question, it would be interesting to read the answers why exactly such constructions are "strange". – CowperKettle Nov 4 '14 at 16:29
3

I've learned that the meaning of "to abuse" is to use something for a bad purpose.

To add to chapka's answer, I want to say that it is also sometimes possible to use a in such sentences:

I've learned that a meaning of "to abuse" is to use something for a bad purpose.

Here, we imply that "to abuse" has numerous meanings, and one of these meanings is "to use something for a bad purpose".

But since this meaning can cover the smaller meanings of "abuse", let's refine:

I've learned that the general meaning of "to abuse" is to use something for a bad purpose.
I've also learned that a more specific meaning of "to abuse" is "to take illegal drugs habitually".

Here, we imply that the word "abuse" has one general, cover-all meaning (hence the), and two or more subordinate meanings used in different contexts, as "to abuse liquor", "to verbally abuse your spouse", etc. Since we're disclosing only one of these specific (sub-)meanings in sentence 2, we use the indefinite article a.

Note that we use the preposition of with some words ("of 'to abuse'") after "meaning" to modify the word "meaning". This is called an "of-phrase": such phrases often make a noun definite enough to call for the use of the definite article - but not always.

2

You are right that the definite article is needed. As with many English language sentences, this becomes clearer if you simplify.

"I've learned that" (or "I've learnt that" in British usages) takes as its object an independent clause. This means that we can strip it off of the beginning of the sentence, leaving us with:

The meaning of "to abuse" is "to use something for a bad purpose."

(Note that you need to add the article "a" to your definition to be idiomatic as well--but let's skip that for now).

The subject of your sentence is now "meaning." As with many English words, "meaning" can be used either with or without an article. However, this changes the meaning of "meaning."

Without a definite article, "meaning" refers to a broad concept that we might call "meaningfulness." For example:

Sally set out with her junior detective kit to search for meaning in a chaotic universe.

In that example, Sally is looking for an abstract concept. If, however, we say:

Sally set out with her junior detective kit to find the meaning of the symbol burned into the cadaver's flesh.

we are referring to a specific meaning attached to a specific concrete referent.

2

I suspect we have to use the definite article in the following sentence:

I've learned that the meaning of "to abuse" is to use something for bad purpose.

It depends how you as the speaker/writer conceptualize (think about) the word meaning when you say it.

If you think of the meaning as a specific meaning of abuse, you use the definite article, just as you have done.

If you think of the meaning of abuse as one meaning among many meanings or any meaning at all you use a.

2

One uses "the" when the idea to be conveyed is either:

a) this thing|item is a particular thing|item in a set of several things|items

These kittens are so frisky!

-- Which one are you going to take home with you?

The calico kitten. (implies the others are not calicos)

These puppies are so rambunctious!

--Which one are you going to take home with you?

It doesn't really matter, as long as it is a puppy that's people-oriented.

or

b) the set contains one and only one item:

What is the main thing you dislike about having a pet?

-- I cannot decide on a whim to take a weekend trip. A pet-sitter must be hired.

Who won The FIFA World Cup in 2014?

-- Germany was the champion in 2014.

[We will ignore for now questions regarding team references as singular or plural]

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