"breakfast is the first meal of 'a' day " or " breakfast is the first meal of 'the' day" ?

Questions from teachers about English grammar and usage

Moderator: Susan

soma
Member
Posts: 1
Joined: Sat Jun 18, 2016 7:58 am
Status: Teacher

"breakfast is the first meal of 'a' day " or " breakfast is the first meal of 'the' day" ?

Unread post by soma » Sat Jun 18, 2016 8:29 am

i encountered this confusion while teaching...

which article usage is correct

"breakfast is the first meal of a day " or "breakfast is the first meal of the day "

kindly explain /

linguisticslife
Member
Posts: 9
Joined: Thu Jun 09, 2016 2:15 am
Status: Trainee Teacher

Re: "breakfast is the first meal of 'a' day " or " breakfast is the first meal of 'the' day" ?

Unread post by linguisticslife » Sat Jun 18, 2016 10:53 pm

Yeah, that is tricky when you have to stop and think about it...

As a native English speaker, I know that the second is right and not the first (although you may find a specific context where the first can be used), that is, you want to use "breakfast is the first meal of the day". This isn't intuitive because "a" is considered an indefinite article, and you're not referring to a specific day, but every day, so it seems like the better choice at first. However, I would argue that "the day" is an idiomatic expression this way because you're referring to an idealized "day", a routine or schedule that is typically followed. It can be used to refer to a general socially practiced schedule, as in your example, or a specific daily schedule, as in "At camp, the last activity of the day is swimming". Hope that helps!

User avatar
Lingo
Member
Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Nov 28, 2016 6:24 am
Status: Teacher
Location: Australia
Contact:

Re: "breakfast is the first meal of 'a' day " or " breakfast is the first meal of 'the' day" ?

Unread post by Lingo » Mon Nov 28, 2016 12:15 pm

Hi soma and linguisticslife,
This isn't intuitive because "a" is considered an indefinite article, and you're not referring to a specific day, but every day, so it seems like the better choice at first.
Yes I totally agree with this. The definite article "the" generally indicates that the thing being referred to is known (or can be known) to the reader or listener by being resolved somewhere in the context or co-text, as in "flavour of the month" or "man of the match." In each case, we can figure out which month and which match are being referred to.

It is difficult to comment on soma's sentence without seeing the rest of the text from which it is derived. However, I would hazard a guess that in this case, "the day" is generic, i.e. reference to a whole class of days similar to "the computer" in "the computer is the most influential invention of the 20th Century" (invented example). This is why "of the day" feels more natural than "of a day," which indicates a particular day.

The definite article is often misunderstood to refer only specific items, but it can also construe general reference.
Lingo

Click here for awesome free content from Lingo.

Post Reply