English grammar question... need explanation

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by restful urchin, Jan 31, 2013.

  1. restful urchin

    restful urchin New Member

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    Hi,
    I have a friend in Japan who sometimes translates scholarly papers from Japanese to English and back again as part of her job. Her spoken English is pretty good, but when it comes to written English she has alot of questions regarding grammar.

    One of the more difficult things for her is deciding when to use the word "the".
    For example, "The parliament in London could be a role model for democracy in Myanmar."
    She is asking me why can't she say,
    "The parliament in London could be a role model for *the* democracy in Myanmar."

    I unofficially think the latter just doesn't sound right. What is the grammatical rule regarding the use of the word *the* before nouns,etc. I used to know this but it's been way too many years.

    OTOH she speaks two other languages besides Japanese and English. That is way more than I can do!

    Thanks!
    Liz
  2. Prancer

    Prancer Ray Chill Staff Member

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    Grammar Girl's guide to using articles before nouns: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/articles-before-nouns.aspx

    I think the sentence has a different meaning with "the" than without. Without "the," the sentence would refer to democracy in general. With "the," the sentence would refer to a specific democracy, such as a form of democratic government.

    It depends on what she means. I would rephrase the entire sentence. :shuffle:
  3. *Jen*

    *Jen* Well-Known Member

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    What Prancer said, plus there is only ONE parliament in London, so you need an article. And as Prancer said, democracy is a general term, so it has no article.
  4. madm

    madm Active Member

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    RE: "The parliament in London could be a role model for democracy in Myanmar."

    There is only one Parliament in London and it is a proper noun (thus capitalized). Democracy is a form of government, not a proper noun.

    Other ways this sentence could have been written (with different meanings) are:

    "The democratic government in London could be a role model for democracy in Myanmar."
    "The Parliament in London could be a role model for establishing a Parliament in Myanmar."
  5. Prancer

    Prancer Ray Chill Staff Member

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    Um, Prancer does not agree with either statement.

    Parliament is a proper noun and thus does not need an article. You would not say "The Parliament passed a bill today." "Parliament passed a bill today" would be correct.

    And as I said, whether democracy requires an article or not would depend upon meaning. Government can be general or specific, for example--Government is necessary for the function of society is fine, but The government is on the verge of collapse is also fine.

    So "The democracy of Myanmar is still in its infancy" seems fine to me, just as "Democracy has not yet been established in Myanmar" would be fine as well. In the first instance, you are using a determiner that specifies a particular democracy, in the second you are not.
  6. Vash01

    Vash01 Well-Known Member

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    Great thread. Even though your friend is Japanese, many of us English speaking people could learn from her question- I certainly would.

    One thing that always bothered me was the inconsistency in using 'the' before a country.

    I have almost always seen 'The Ukraine' when it should have been 'Ukraine'. With the United States, people use (or not use) 'the' correctly. You never see 'the' before some countries, like England (but 'in the UK...' seems commonplace), or Germany (I have never seen 'the' before this country).

    I have always used 'the' based on whether it sounds OK or not. I have forgotten the rules of grammar long ago - that's what happens when you study engineering (just kidding) :lol:

    I have still not figured out the use of 'The'. Hopefully the article posted by Prancer will answer my question.
  7. gkelly

    gkelly Well-Known Member

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    I'm not sure where the practice of using "The" with this country name in English originated, but it isn't necessary.

    With "United States" or "United Kingdom" what we have is not really a name of the same sort as "Germany" or "America" or "Britain" but rather a description of the political structure, similar to "Republic."

    The official names of the countries are "The United States of America" and "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland." I.e., not just any group of united states or any united kingdom, of which there might be several throughout the world, but a specific set of states, a specific kingdom.

    Hence the definite article.

    But because these are the only or best known nations with "united states" or "united kingdom" in their official names, there's hardly any chance of confusion if people just say "The United States" or "The United Kingdom" without specifying which states or which kingdom, so for the sake of convenience the name of the land(s) that have been so united are generally not stated.

    Yeah, as native speakers we internalize the rules in practice before we learn how to write and analyze. And since there are often exceptions to the rules, it's often more accurate for native speakers just to stick with what sounds right.
  8. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member

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    "The parliament in London" does not sound like a correct construction to me. It is actually called "the Parliament" or, in a British context (such as an article in The Times or a BBC broadcast, "Parliament"), so using a common noun instead of a proper noun does not make sense. If I were writing out the sentence for use in a context that was not specifically British, I would begin with "the British Parliament" or possibly even "the British House of Commons." I understand that the original Japanese probably refers to London, but that doesn't mean that the reference should be included in the translation.
  9. Artemis@BC

    Artemis@BC Well-Known Member

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    I've always assumed that it was because Ukraine begins with the same syllable as The United States / Kingdom / Arab Emirates etc. Not that that makes it any more correct, of course, but it is at least logical from a phonetic point of view.
  10. Artemis@BC

    Artemis@BC Well-Known Member

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    In this particular instance, "The British House of Commons" would probably be a better choice. "The British Parliament" also includes the House of Lords -- arguably not the best model of democracy to put forward as an example for Myanmar!

    But that's not a grammar issue of course. :D
  11. skatingfan5

    skatingfan5 Well-Known Member

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    Who know why/how use of the definite article "the" with Ukraine became so prevalent during the last century. Here's a "mini-treatise" about it. :shuffle:
  12. ioana

    ioana Well-Known Member

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    But we don't really say "in the Uganda"or "in the Uruguay"...:shuffle:

    eta: Just saw skatingfan5's post. Thanks!
  13. Prancer

    Prancer Ray Chill Staff Member

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    That's why I would rephrase the entire sentence as I *think* it is supposed to mean something like "The British parliamentary system is a good model for Myanmar democracy"--but that assumes that Myanmar does not have a democracy yet and is seeking or needs a model (I would not say role model in this case), or that Myanmar's current democracy needs to be reformed.

    But it is always difficult to edit something without full context.
  14. madm

    madm Active Member

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    I'm going to have to listen more carefully tonight when I watch the BBC News on TV to see how they refer to Parliament!
  15. Prancer

    Prancer Ray Chill Staff Member

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    They will likely refer to Parliament as Parliament. :) It would be like US news reports referring to Congress as Congress. In other countries, they would likely say "The US Congress."

    But there are other parliamentary governments, so you might need to specify which parliament in this particular translation. Or not. It depends on the audience for the translation and how Parliament/parliament would be understood

    Again, it is very difficult to edit without knowing the full context.
  16. restful urchin

    restful urchin New Member

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    Thanks everyone for your quck responses. I'm kind of lost. Going by ear works best for me, but I'm not trying to translate anything. I think I'll direct my friend to this thread.

    Along the same line. I've noticed in books (novels) that if someone is saying they went for a swin, they will say," We dived into the water". What happened to using the word dove as in the past tense? "We dove into the water".
  17. Prancer

    Prancer Ray Chill Staff Member

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    Dived is the traditional past participle form and is more commonly used; dove is newer and less common, although it is not unusual in North America and in some British dialects.

    http://grammarist.com/usage/dove-dived/
  18. restful urchin

    restful urchin New Member

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    Thanks Prancer.
    I just thought perhaps that due to menopause, my mind has completely quit functioning and I can no longer process information correctly!!!!!!:hat1: