2

Source

Joe plays the piano really well.

Joe plays piano really well.

The former means Joe can play any piano while the latter one means Joe can play only this piano?

Source

Paris is the capital of France.

The capital, London, on the River Thames, is home of Parliament and the 11th-century Tower of London, but is also a multicultural, 21st-century hub for the arts and business in "The City."

The capital is correct while the home not.Why?

3

Joe plays the piano really well.

Joe plays piano really well.

As said by Alan Carmac and as explained in the answers to this question on ELU, neither of the two sentences implies a particular piano. If you want the linguistic term for this phenomenon, it is "generic noun phrase". Here are questions on ELL about generic noun phrases.

In English, a noun can sometimes refer to a class of things or to a typical representative of a class even then there is an article ("the" or "a") before the noun.

According to some native speakers, the phrase without an article gives "a slight feeling of playing with a group or orchestra" (I play the part devoted to the piano when I participate in orchestra performances), whereas using the article puts more focus on the instrument. But other native speakers disagree (see comments below).

The version with "the" might be more widespread:

enter image description here

If you're interested in generic phrases, Jown Lawler wrote a dissertation on them. In this answer he provides some links. Regarding "I play the piano", he says that "In that sentence the whole verb phrase is generic, and the noun gets it from that. See Chapter II."

P.S. A related post on Language Log:

  • What about 'the home and the capital'? – Anubhav Singh Jun 25 '16 at 5:00
  • 1
    @AnubhavSingh -- oops. I thought someone else would answer that, and Alan Carmack answered it partly. Your question is really two questions. I'd say "London is home of Parliament" is a kind of idiomatic expression with the meaning "London is where (the country's) Parliament is located". – CowperKettle Jun 25 '16 at 5:13
  • 1
    In and of itself, the absence of the article does not give "a slight feeling of playing with a group", despite that answer on ELU. "She plays piano" does not at all imply or hint that she's in an orchestra. "He plays banjo" does not suggest that he's in a bluegrass band. She plays woodwinds, on the other hand, might imply it, but that is because the instrument has been identified by its type (woodwinds is a section of the orchestra). – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 25 '16 at 10:21
  • 1
    Yes, vigorously and indiscriminately. :) – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 25 '16 at 10:42
  • 1
    But if you ask "What is your daughter up to these days? Is she still busking by the subway exit with her guitar?" and I reply "She's playing the piano", then I am not referring to a specific piano in my house, but to the instrument in generic terms. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 25 '16 at 10:52
1

The piano and piano are pretty much interchangeable and refer to the piano in general, not to any particular piano. If you want to refer to a specific piano, you would have to use this piano or that piano. Even when John is playing a piano, and you say John plays the piano really well, you are referring to a generic piano, not the one John is actually playing. This usage of the with (some?) instruments is an interesting facet of English.

You can omit the in the sentence about Paris, giving you

Paris is capital of France.

This leads directly to your question about home. You can also use the home in the sentence you provided.

But you would not say

*Capital, London, on the River Thames...

Rather than try to figure out rules, just accept the fact that English is not always consistent in its application of the definite article.

  • 1
    Can we really omit 'the' in "[city] is capital of [country]"? Ngram says that the version with 'the' is way more widespread. – CowperKettle Jun 24 '16 at 4:05
  • 1
    My answer talks about a natural English construction; I'm not concerned with how widespread such usage may or may not be. – Alan Carmack Jun 24 '16 at 4:24
  • What about 'the home and the capital'? – Anubhav Singh Jun 25 '16 at 5:00
  • 1
    I corroborate Alan's statement that "the" can be omitted in "Paris is capital of France" but searching through my database of anything anyone has ever said within earshot of me (I have a micro-USB port behind my left ear and download nightly), I would venture to say that the context of such a statement is likely to be question-and-answer: What is the capital of France? -- Paris is capital of France. We would not ask "*What is capital of France?" We might ask "What city is capital of France?" or "What's the capital of France?" – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 25 '16 at 10:27
  • 1
    I asked a number of native speakers (though all were from Central Atlantic, US, like myself) and all said that they would not ask the question "What is capital of ....?" – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 25 '16 at 12:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.