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I understand the meaning of the in the following sentences:

The man who lives next door is Chinese.

No one expected the results that were found.

There can only be one man and a single instance of results.

But what about sentences such as:

The journey to Vancouver takes three days by train.

(The sentence is from this guide)

On one hand, this isn't just any journey, but the journey to Vancouver, therefore the is justified.

Yet it also sounds like a general statement to me, similar to: "All journeys to Vancouver take three days by train". As opposed to, say, the journey I took last week.

To add to my confusion, there is this sentence from Cambridge Grammar of English:

Furniture of that quality is too good for a student flat.

Here, the isn't used, with the explanation being "all and any furniture of that quality".

How to discern whether such sentences refer to general statements that don't use the, or specific instances that require the? Is the use of the a matter of preference here or a hard rule exists?

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Regarding your first example sentence:

The journey to Vancouver takes three days by train.

This is the so-called generic use of the definite article, like in

The Siberian husky makes a good sled dog. (This statement is not about some particular husky. The is used generically to refer to the members of a class in toto.)

With a count noun like "Siberian husky" you have three options to express generic reference

The Siberian husky makes a good sled dog. (the + singular form)
A Siberian husky makes a good sled dog. (a + singular form)
Siberian huskies make good sled dogs. (no article + plural form)

However, the three options are in free variation only when "Siberian husky" is the subject in the clause. When we use such a phrase as object, it might not be generic in all three variations. For instance, only option 1 below will refer to "Siberian huskies" as a species:

  1. Geneticists have been working to improve the Siberian husky. (the species as a whole)
  2. Geneticists have been working to improve a Siberian husky. (some particular dog, not the species)
  3. Geneticists have been working to improve Siberian huskies. (most likely some subset of the species, for instance, a group of 100 dogs and their progeny)

Regarding your second example sentence:

Furniture of that quality is too good for a student flat. (with "∅" denoting the absence of an article)

Furniture is a concrete noncount noun. "Concrete" in the sense that it could be felt by hand, "noncount" in the sense that you can't have 1 furniture, 2 furnitures, 3 furnitures etc.

According to Quirk et al., we can omit the before a concrete noncount noun, although we tend to add the when such a noun is postmodified by an of-phrase

This museum specializes in 18th century furniture (pre-modified by "18th century)
This museum specializes in the furniture of the 18th century (post-modified by an "of-phrase")

Quirk et al. write that the use of the in such cases elicits a slight contract: without the, we understand "18th century furniture" in the widest possible sense. With the, the sentence allows the interpretation that the museum specializes in only some kinds of 18th century furniture.

So Quirk et al. write that in these cases (with concrete non-count nouns postmodified by "of-phrases") it is to a lesser or greater degree acceptable to omit the, probably in order to impart the widest possible sense to the phrase:

The museum specializes in furniture of the 18th century.


Reference:

Quirk et al., "A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language", Chapter 5.52, The articles in generic reference, and Chapter 5.58, The articles with abstract noncount nouns.

John Lawler, "Re: A question about the generic use of articles", in "Ask a Linguist", University of Michigan, May 1997

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English as a whole is often subject to the speaker's preference, so you're right to suspect that there may not be a hard-and-fast rule here. That said, I'll try to clarify the reasoning behind the specific cases you brought up.

Your reasoning is correct on these first ones.

The man who lives next door is Chinese.

No one expected the results that were found.

Notice that "man" and "results" in this context do not refer to a general group of things, although they could in another context. For example:

Man is a fickle creature.

which refers to mankind as a whole (i.e., man in general), and

We promise our product will bring results!

which refers to a more general concept of "good things happening", not to specific results. By way of counterexample,

We promise our product will bring you the results you want!

referring to the specific results you have in mind. A subtle difference, I know.

In the case of

The journey to Vancouver takes three days by train.

we use "the" because 1) like you mentioned, all journeys take the same amount of time and 2) a journey is a single thing, not a general noun or concept.

On the other hand, in

Furniture of that quality is too good for a student flat.

describes a general group of things using the singular noun "furniture", not a specific item or specific group of items. As a counterexample, if we were talking about the items of furniture in someone's specific flat, we might say

The furniture in that apartment is too good for it.

Hopefully that helped. This is one of those things where you'll probably need to read and hear many examples in context to get an instinct for when and when not to use "the".

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