Here is a sentence from The Marvelous Land of Oz:

When sent to the forest Tip often climbed trees for birds' eggs or amused himself chasing the fleet white rabbits or fishing in the brooks with bent pins.

All the things in bold haven't been mentioned before. Why is it birds but the rabbits and trees but the brooks if all these things are in the same forest?

I think the following piece would be relevant:

At Canter's Deli, you should get the corned-beef sandwich.

Here, "the" is appropriate because bringing up the deli implicitly brings up typical items on the menu.

I was in the N.Y. Library. I was reading the books there, and one book interested me.

"Oh, you were reading the books!" As opposed to what, the posters on the wall? Usually when there is grammatical ambiguity, a listener will use common sense to avoid making an absurd interpretation, but in this case, the absurdity is hard to avoid because a listener understands this sentence by analogy with the "…and fixed the sink" and "…get the corned-beef sandwich" sentences.

I don't know if I understand that answer completely. Did the author omit the article because it was obvious that every forest had trees and birds? Did he use the article to point out that in some forests there might not be white rabbits or brooks, but in his forest they were there and were some of its features?

  • 3
    The rabbits and the brooks are the ones found there in Oz. Compare: "What I like best about that amusement park is the ferris wheel." The definite article has a meaning there quite close to the possessive "its".
    – TimR
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 10:05
  • Do you like this jacket? --I like the color, but I don't care for the wide lapels.
    – TimR
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 10:13
  • @TRomano In other words, there's a kind of rabbits and brooks unique to Oz (that's why they use the article) while the trees and birds there aren't different from those we have in our world (that's why they don't). Is that what you mean?
    – athlonusm
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 12:24
  • 1
    There's not necessarily any implication of absolute uniqueness, but these are features peculiar to, or characteristic of, Oz. If the birds eggs were unusual in some Oz-like way, an author might write "climbed trees to fetch the birds eggs with their polka-dot shells".
    – TimR
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 12:54

1 Answer 1


About the absence of article before trees and birds'

In Tip often climbed trees for birds' eggs: it is not that it's obvious that every forest has trees and birds, but more that they are not special trees or birds.

The character just used to climb some trees to find some birds's eggs. The presence of often emphasizes the fact that it was a routine and that there was nothing important about these trees and eggs. We thus have no reason to point at them with a definite article.

About the rabbits

The presence of the article the is justified by the explicit description of the rabbits. These were not just random rabbits, but rather the fleet white ones. The author could have said:

or amused himself chasing rabbits or fishing

Because they are just random rabbits and the center of attention is on the action itself, chasing. But for whatever reason, he decided to give some importance to the rabbits, hence the presence of an adjective and the article "the".

About the brooks

Again, the author felt like emphasizing on the brooks, and not just any random brooks.

In short

Every choice of article conveys an intention from the author. If he wants to describe random objects among plenty others, he would use a/an/nothing. If he wants to explicitly point at them, he will use the. Every time you use the instead of a/an/nothing, the center of attention shifts from the verb to the object you're describing.

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