I stumbled across this sentence, which is used as an example, while looking through Oxford Guide to English Grammar:

If you haven't got television, you can't watch it.

Assuming the sentence is correct, I looked up television in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary which gave me 3 meanings of the word:

  1. A piece of electrical equipment with a screen on which you can watch programmes with moving pictures and sounds.
  2. The programmes broadcast on television.
  3. The system, the process or business of broadcasting television programmes.

I thought in the conditional clause television referred to the first meaning, but I then noticed there was no a before television. Also, in the latter clause, it seemed to refer to television with the uncountable second meaning (as in watch TV). This caused me confusion.

I tried changing the sentence into the following:

If you haven't got a television, you can't watch it.

which turned out to be weird since nobody 'watches a TV'.

So which meaning is correct? Was the sentence wrong in the first place? Did I misunderstand something here?

3 Answers 3


Add another definition:

4.The ability to receive television signals and programs.

In the US these days almost all television (2) is distributed by cable or satellite services. If you are not a subscriber to one of these services you may still receive over-the-air broadcasts; but that is in many locations a very inferior signal, and in any case does not include a very large proportion of available programming.

In effect, you "haven't got television", just as if you don't pay a service provider you "haven't got internet".

I'm not saying that that's what your first sentence means; it may in fact be an error for a television (1); but it's a possible interpretation.

  • 1
    I think it could be seen as a subset of OALD's definition #3 - if you haven't got your end of the television "system". Commented May 16, 2013 at 21:06
  • This is actually a perfect example of how a lot of speech in English works. Despite whatever the dictionary may say (giving those 3 definitions), fluent people will often use words in some new way that makes a lot of sense to people familiar with the culture. So, unofficially creating a new way for a word to be used is something that we see pretty commonly.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 14:49

This is an example of synechdoche - where you can use the whole to represent the part.

So if you do not have television, you cannot watch television. Could be taken as "If you do not receive television signals, you cannot watch the television signals."

Or it can mean "If you do not have [a] television [receiver], you cannot watch [a] television [receiver], and you'd intend either of those, and you would intend your chosen phase to mean "If you do not receive television signals because you do not have a television set to receiver them on, then you can't watch the television signal upon a television set."

It's slightly complicated because the phrase making use of synechdoche could be referring in a literal sense to either the set or the signals, but the figure of speech is really referring to the sum of those two things taken together.


The syntax is the same as, "Do you have broadband?" or "Now we are cooking with gas". Certain words are dropped by convention. These could be more specific as "Do you have (access to a) broadband (internet service)?" or "Now we are cooking with (a device that uses natural) gas".

Or more colorfully, there is a difference between "I have got a sh*t", "I have got the sh*t" and "I have got sh*t". The meanings are "something bad","something good" and "nothing".

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