From the novel The Old Man and the Sea

He looked back at the coils of line and they were feeding smoothly. Just then the fish jumped making a great bursting of the ocean and then a heavy fall. Then he jumped again and again and the boat was going fast although line was still racing out and the old man was raising the strain to breaking point and raising it to breaking point again and again.

Why there is a the in "at the coils" but not in "coils of line"(coils of the line), and there is a the in "of the ocean" but not in "to breaking point"(to the breaking point)?

2 Answers 2


We normally use the, the definite article in English, to indicate that we are talking about a specific object. He was looking at the coils of line because he was looking at specific coils of line - those which were on his boat. They are just coils of line, though, because line in this case is just a generic material. It is not any specific line, just line. (This absence of either a definite or indefinite article is called zero-marking or the zero article. You will also see this phrasing in sentences like "pieces of pie" or "slices of cake".) The ocean is similar to the first sentence: it is the specific ocean that he was in.

Here is a good article on definite and indefinite articles from the Purdue Online Writing Lab: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/540/01/

Here is an article on the zero article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/radio/specials/1113_gramchallenge30/

To breaking point is a little more ambiguous. I would ordinarily say to the breaking point (after all, it is a specific point) but simply to breaking point is idiomatic too. Here is a graph of the usage of both "to breaking point" and "to the breaking" point, which shows that both are in use.


The author made a stylistic choice.

We cannot know precisely what he was thinking, but one likely possibility is that the other way simply sounded too wordy to him.

English authors often use literary privilege that allows their creative / artistic urges to override grammar rules.

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