You know how to turn on (the) printer(s)!

A child has turned on a computer and you are making a mark. It is the printer, but you are not limiting your meaning to this occasion and you mean printers in general. Would "the" printer convey this meaning?

  • 1
    If you mean printers in general, you should say printers or a printer. If you use the definite article the printer, you're referring to a printer in particular or the concept of a printer (e.g. The printer allows you to output digital data onto paper.).
    – Vlammuh
    Jun 8, 2015 at 20:54
  • @Sander, thanks. I know the concept you are talking about, but do you understand my concept?
    – Joe Kim
    Jun 8, 2015 at 20:57
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    Well, in this case I would either use a printer or printers, since you're talking about the machine in general and not about one in particular nor the concept of a printer.
    – Vlammuh
    Jun 8, 2015 at 21:04
  • If you say 'the printer' or 'the printers' in this sentence, it would mean that the child is able to turn on the specific printer or printers in that room, but is not necessarily able to turn on any other printers. He only knows how to turn on those printers. If you say he is able to turn on 'a printer' or 'printers', he knows how that type of machine works and is able to turn on the machine in general (this includes any printers outside of the building or room you're talking about in this context).
    – Vlammuh
    Jun 8, 2015 at 21:46

1 Answer 1


When you are refering to a printer, for example one in your home you would say "the printer" this is refering to ONE specific printer if you wanted to refer to multiple specific printers you would say "the printers". If you wanted to talk about any printer in general (for example: any printer) you would say "I can turn on a printer".


  • You don't necessarily refer to one specific printer when using 'the'. For example, in the following sentence, 'the' doesn't refer to one single animal: The tiger is a striped animal.
    – Vlammuh
    Jun 8, 2015 at 21:02
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    @joeKim If you are asking if I am a native speaker, then yes I am. And in the sentence "you never know where the bomb will blow" it still follows my answer you are referring to a specific item. Jun 8, 2015 at 21:10
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    @Sander When you use "the" in that sentence it has a totally different meaning, you are refering to a species not an object. Saying "The tiger is a striped animal." is like saying "The human is smart." it is not a correct use of the. Instead you could say " Tigers are striped animals" or in my example "Humans are smart". Jun 8, 2015 at 21:40
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    @TrevorClarke The use of 'the' that I wrote about in my comment above, IS correct. Indeed, it does not have the same meaning, it refers to the concept of the tiger and not one tiger in particular. However, the meaning being different does not imply that my sentence was incorrect. I was just trying to explain that there are more types of usage for the definite article than just referring to a specific thing or person.
    – Vlammuh
    Jun 8, 2015 at 21:43
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    @JoeKim No, for singular count nouns, you almost always have to use an article (a/an, the) or a determiner (this/that), possessive (my, Sally's), or something else. You can't say You know you how to turn on printer. Well, you can say it, but it is not in accord with standard grammar.
    – user6951
    Jun 8, 2015 at 23:47

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