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I reckon there are three types of general meanings in English using the definite article:

  1. The iPhone is a popular gadget nowadays.

  2. The steel industry is the business of producing steel.

  3. The Mediterranean (Sea) is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean.

Then, in which category would these examples below fit?

A. The deed is the basic document used to transfer an estate or other interest in land during the owner's lifetime.

B. The mortgage is viewed as the transfer of an interest in real property.

Both of the words convey general meanings, but how? My guess is that these are similar to (3): there were other words after 'deed' and 'mortgage' but we often omit them.

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  • Try 'no' articles!
    – Maulik V
    Oct 29, 2015 at 10:44
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    The definite article is used to impart a generic meaning only in your example (1). Examples (2) and (3) are not generic. Oct 29, 2015 at 10:50
  • I think your confusion is the use of "interest in" within the last two phrases in question. The deed is a title to the land. It indicates who owns the land. A mortgage indicates that the owner of the land has a monetary loan on the land. It would generally be less than the land is worth, but real estate is a fickle business. If values fall the mortgage could be more than the present value of the land. Also there can only be one deed to a property. A property can have more than one mortgage.
    – MaxW
    Oct 29, 2015 at 23:16
  • @MaxW a deed can be used to convey an interest that is less than full ownership. For example a quitclaim deed conveys whatever rights the granter has. A deed can also be used to convey co-ownership, a life interest, or an easement, none of which is the same as ownership in fee simple. There can also be a "deed of trust" controlling a property. Thus there can in fact be several deed associated with a property, although only one is the deed to the property. Oct 8, 2021 at 18:09

2 Answers 2

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The question is peculiar to say the least. What are "the three types of general meaning" that supposedly are exemplified. None of the definite articles is appended to a noun that appears to concern any kind of general meaning.

"The IPhone" refers to a specific type of popular gadget.

"The steel business" refers to a specific type of business, namely those that produce steel or shape steel.

"The Mediterranean Sea" refers to a specific sea.

In each of those cases, a specific item in a set is being picked out for notice.

In A and B, "the" is being used grammatically the same way as in the examples. What may be confusing the OP is that the meaning of A and B is contradictionary so some grammatical nuance of grammatical distinction is perhaps being inferred. There is no such nuance: the contradiction arises because statement B is factually wrong.

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Yes, you are correct in saying that they refer to generalities. The two examples you provided with "deed" and "mortgage" as their primary subject are similar to example (3) in that with the added modifier 'the,' they are referring to a specific type of generality known as (and I made this up) The Generality. Putting emphasis on 'the' we get titles of novels like The Sound and The Fury and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. The generalities here are 'heart' and 'sound' and 'fury,' modified by 'the' to convey some kind of grand (note this word, as it distinguishes it from other types of generalities) poetical significance. Without 'the' it just becomes 'heart,' which turns it into one of two types of other generalities. These are: Regular Poetical Generality and Generality. The first is seen in works like "Heart is a Drum," where it's used to personalize or personify the actual organ the heart, and where it's being used in hypothetical ways. Generality is where things like the Goddess of the Night, or "Night" get simplified by removing such articles. With Generality, you are referring to big, truly general concepts such as geological, chronological, and human concepts (such as 'name,' 'world,' etc.).

More on generalities here. You might also search the book The Stylistics of Poetry: Context, cognition, discourse, history for 'article,' read "On Generalities" by Vladimir Nabokov, or read Grammar.com's section on articles.

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    You should separate your answer into more paragraphs. A large wall of text is not very readable.
    – LMS
    Aug 7, 2016 at 16:01

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