Re: Style: future or "the" future?

Subject: Re: Style: future or "the" future?
From: Howard Peirce <howard -dot- peirce -at- SDRC -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 14:16:14 -0400

Jacqueline Napier wrote:

> In grammar the adjective 'the' is called the definite article. It points out a particular noun or
> pronoun (An and A are indefinite articles. They point to no specific or particular noun or
> pronoun.) Native English speakers use adjectives to modify their nouns and pronouns. Using
> articles is sometimes a stumbling block for many people who use English as a second language.
> Articles make sentences interesting, clearer, and more exact.

Jacqueline--

Yikes, yikes, yikes. An article is not an adjective, it's an article. It's a separate part of
speech. It doesn't modify anything. If it does anything, it points at things. Do you really use
articles before pronouns? I'd like to hear that. That would make a sentence interesting: "What a
lovely baby. Is it a him or a her?"

Sorry to be so cruel, but c'mon.

Valerie--

I'm not surprised you're having trouble with when to use articles. The fact is, it's not consistent,
there are no set rules, the use of articles is largely idiomatic, and varies for different dialects
of English. An Englishman or Canadian, when sick, goes "to hospital." An American with the same
illness goes "to the hospital." (An Australian goes to the beach, I suppose <g>.) A good usage
manual like Fowler (UK and the commonwealth) or Zinnser (US--I'll have to look up the title of the
Zinnser book on American usage; a little dated but the best I've seen) should be of some help.

In the example you gave ("Let's integrate future/the future"), my first question would be whether
"future" in this case is a noun or an adjective. In "Let's integrate future activities," for
example, "future" is an adjective, so you know there's no article. When "future" is a noun, it's
almost always "the future," and "the future" is usually understood as a kind of nebulous, far-off
time. Idiomatically, if you're referring to events in the immediate future (like later this
afternoon, or tomorrow), you might try "Let's integrate soon," or even "Let's integrate sometime."

My rule for times when I'm not sure: "When in doubt, weasel out."

Howard Peirce
Senior Information Developer
SDRC
--where things are a little slow right now


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