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If my dad and I are going a market, can I say

Two of us are going to the market.

or I should say

The two of us are going to the market.

I am kind of confused about the "the" here. What role is it playing over here??

If I take a guess, I would say that the difference is just like "a car" and "the car"? Am I right?

  • 5
    When talking about some number of a group, using no article carries the implication that there are more in the group. E.g., the example you gave means something like Among all ten of us, two are going to the market and the rest are not. Using a definite article with a number simply indicates that there are that many: There are two of us, and we're both going to the market. – Era Jan 15 '16 at 21:29
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The is the definite article. When you use it, you think that your listener/reader already knows the thing being referred to, or that he will be able to understand what you are referring to from the context.

Let's say there are 5 persons in your family. Imagine that you and your father are talking with a friend of your family. The friend knows that there are 5 persons in your family. The other 3 members of your family are not present. You say:

Two of us are going to the market.

Depending on the context of your conversation, he might understand this as:

  1. 2 persons from your family of 5 will go to the market. That might be the mother and one of the daughters. That might be the father and the mother, etc.

  2. 2 persons out of the 3 persons present during the talk will go to the market. That might be the friend and you, or the friend and your father. Who that will be exactly has not been determined yet.

  3. 2 persons out of some group you have mentioned during the talk will go to the market. You belong to this group, but that does not necessarily mean that you personally will go to the market.

However, if you say:

The two of us are going to the market.

Then, depending on the context of your conversation, he might understand this as:

  1. You and your father are going to the market.

  2. You and him are going to the market.

The most likely situation is that you and your father are going to the market, and you're telling this to the friend of the family.

Note that with the, in both cases you are part of this two-person group. Without the, in all the three cases you may be part of the two-person group, but not necessarily.

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    Your first paragraph correctly describes a good overall rule description (which I posited, based on extensive reading), but just recall that English has a ton of idiomatic uses that will not correspond with this description. We say 'Take the elevator to the 5th floor' when there are more than one elevator and we are not referring to a specific one. The same for 'Can you tell me how to get to the hospital?' when there are, say, five hospitals in the city and we are not referring to a specific one. Etc. – GoDucks Jan 16 '16 at 14:52
  • @GoDucks - I tried to describe the usage for this particular case as I was trying to untangle it to myself. I was surprised to see the answer upvoted so vigorously. I agree that article usage is very complicated. The thing with "take the elevator" or a similar phrase is a staple thing pointed out by linguists who write about articles.. Maybe it's impossible to come up with a simple rule at all. – CowperKettle Jan 16 '16 at 14:54
  • There is no descriptive rule that covers all cases. I took the bus to New York. From there I took a limo to Boston. Apparently elevators and buses have fixed destinations or routes, while limos and taxis can take you to any destination or have many variable routes. – GoDucks Jan 16 '16 at 15:04
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    @GoDucks - the best description of article usage I've seen so far is in Quirk et al. (1985). That part of their book is so big that I only remember some choice bits. When combined with John Lawler's PDF on "Generic Noun Phrase", it would cover the majority of cases, I guess. – CowperKettle Jan 16 '16 at 15:06
  • But of course, one can say: take an elevator to the fifth floor, I took a bus to New York and the limo to Boston. – GoDucks Jan 16 '16 at 15:07
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The role being played is being specific. "Two of us" could be any pair in theory while "The two of us" is more specific by using a definite article.

There could also be some emphasis as another part added here since the second sentence seems to focus more on there being two of us.

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When you use the phrase "two of us", it means you + a person (indefinite) who the listener doesn't know are going to the market.

On the other hand, when you use "the two of us", it means that the listener knows who you are referring to (i.e. you + your father) who are going to the market.

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I've just up-voted CowperKettle's answer, but on second thoughts, I agree with only the first part.

The is the definite article. When you use it, you think that your listener/reader already knows the thing being referred to, or that he will be able to understand what you are referring to from the context.

I agree with this part. I am just another English learner, but I want to know if what I feel is correct.

I think that either 'two of us' or 'the two of us' might include the speaker, but not necessarily.

Also, I think when there are only the speaker and his son in the living room, the father starts to talk about his idea by saying "Two of us are going to the market." Here it doesn't matter how many are in the family. It's the same 'two of us' as spoken by any couple of people meaning 'you and me.' And this is the reason it implies 'excluding the rest.'

And when he talks more about the idea, I think it's natural to keep saying 'two of us' or 'we.' (This is when talking among the two person.)

When 'the two of us' includes the speaker, it might be just an alternative expression to talk about the two already mentioned, but I think it gets to sound like the speaker is being objective or a story teller, or shifting his point of view to the third person. (You use 'The two of us' to talk about us to someone else.)

I would like a confirmation or correction from native speakers.

I have another situation: I think it's natural to start speaking by saying "Two of them look sad" while watching the two people sitting in some distance, though "The two of them look sad" is also natural without any context because you are watching them. Am I correct?

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  • This isn't an answer to the original question, it's either an extensive comment on CowperKettle's answer, or the basis for a new question. You're asking for native speaker's input but this "answer" isn't the place to ask for that, it should be a new Q and have its own page. – Mari-Lou A Jun 22 at 7:55
  • Please be more constructive. I've written answers to the question and I just need the confirmation or correction from native speakers. – karlalou Jun 22 at 20:26
  • Do you know how many times you wrote "I think" in an answer? Five times. Nearly all your suppositions are based on Cowperkettle's reply, so that is why I suggested that you write a new question, linking to Cowperkettle's answer. It's perfectly fine to do so, many other users have done exactly that, and that is what I would do. But it's your choice in the end. – Mari-Lou A Jun 22 at 20:43
  • Thank you. i believe this way is more beneficial to all the English learners. – karlalou Jun 22 at 20:51
  • I needed to say "I think" because answers by native speakers don't say these. – karlalou Jun 22 at 20:58

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