I got very stuck one more time, and scouting the internet didn't work. I would be glad if you could break this confusion. Can "the + noun" be a general reference, not a limited set? I want to provide you with some examples of what I mean:

  1. "I like the cars he has. The cars he has are nice."

Besides its obvious meaning of talking about the cars he has now, can it be used even if the person has no any cars at the moment (due to some strange occasion), and I talk generally that I like any car he had, has, will have, because he doesn't choose bad ones.

  1. "How will you deal with the creatures you will meet there?"

About this sentence I was once told, that here it means, that I talk about real creatures that are really there, and the person will inevitably meet them. But again, can it mean that I talk about any creatures there, maybe there are no creatures there at all, but I use the definite article because somehow they are specific - those that you will meet there. And indeed, does saying "you will meet there" can only mean that inevitably I will meet them? I think that it all depends on the particular interpretation by the listener. One could think about it like of a possible situation of meeting those creatures... Please, help to understand. Thank you.


1 Answer 1


In the case of:

1) I like the cars he has. The cars he has are nice."

this is spoken from your (I) reference point, so as long as you believe he has cars (whether he actually does or not) it is OK.

But if you were unsure, you would need to make the statement conditional, like:

I would like any cars he has. Any cars he has would be nice."

Since it is not a fixed group, you can't use the.

2) How will you deal with the creatures you will meet there?

Since you are referring to future events, it is reasonable that you don't yet know what creatures you will find. Maybe there are some there but you won't find them.

As long as you have a reasonable belief that you will find creatures there, this statement would be OK.
But if there is some doubt or if it is unknown if any will be found, it would be better to use any.

How will you deal with any creatures you might find?

To summarize:

1) The usage is based on the point of view of the speaker or person with the knowledge of the mentioned items.
2) If there aren't any, or you believe there aren't any, you can't use the.
3) If the mentioned items exist, or you believe they exist (based on unknown factors or future actions not yet completed), then using the is OK.
4) In the present, if you are unsure or don't know if the items exist, use any instead of the.

  • User3169, thanks! Let me clarify something, please. About the first sentence, do you mean that saying this means that he has cars for sure, and can't be used if he has not? If yes, why then about the second sentence you say that maybe(!) there are some creatures there? And you also say that it is better to use "any", so using "any" is not necessary if there is doubt. This contradicts the answer about the first sentence to me. Dec 27, 2014 at 18:02
  • 1
    It is also worth asking, why I encounter the phrases like: "The books he reads are usually about..." ? It is for sure not a limited set, I talk about any books he reads, will read... :) Dec 27, 2014 at 18:17
  • Please check my edits.
    – user3169
    Dec 27, 2014 at 19:13

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