9

It seems like there are so many exceptions for articles. Example sentences:

  • I don't like going to the theater. I prefer going to the cinema.

    I feel like it is not specific but why do we use "the" not "a"?

  • I don't like watching TV in the mornings ]

    Why do we use "the" for non-specific mornings?

  • 1
    The best account of article usage I've ever read is in Quirk et al.'s Comprehensive Grammar. The book devotes dozens of pages to the topic, and addresses "the theater" and "the cinema" issues with skill. – CowperKettle Sep 29 '15 at 6:16
  • This may not sound like a good answer (though, imho, it's the very answer): the thes are used in your examples even though the nouns are not specific because they're definite. – Damkerng T. Sep 29 '15 at 8:35
  • I would learn "to go to the theatre/the cinema" as idiomatic expressions and not try to explain them with rules. – rogermue Sep 29 '15 at 11:54
3

In these sentences you are using "the" to refer to the category of a thing, and so to say "I don't like going to the theater" is the same as saying "I don't like going to theaters". It's a little confusing, but using the indefinite article in 'I do not like a theater' suggests that there is one theater that you do not like, but you might like other theaters.

You cannot construct sentences like this with any noun, so be careful. The first of these two sentences is fine, the second is not:

I do not like to travel on the bus.

I do not like to eat the sandwich.

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  • 'I do not like a theater' - from this sentence, is it like that i have already known which theater is in my mind but because of a listener doesn't know what in my mind, so I should use 'a' with the reason that not both of us known a specific place? – Tawan Thampipattanakul Oct 2 '15 at 13:31
  • 1
    Yes, you would use a in this case because you know which theater you mean but the listener does not. However, although the sentence "I do not like a theater" is technically correct, it would sound unusual to most people. A much more natural way to phrase the same statement would be "there is a theater I do not like." To get specific, you might say "that is the theater I do not like." – Alex Chase Oct 2 '15 at 14:56
  • If you considered the sandwich as referring to the prototypical sandwich then the sentence is indeed fine. – Alan Carmack Jul 25 '16 at 20:39
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Not all clauses and phrases make the noun known to the listener. Some are simply descriptive. They add extra information, but they do not tell the listener which specific thing we are talking about.

basically you are saying "I do not like to go to a show in the theater" or "a movie in the cinema" or "a show on the TV in the morning

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