The rain or rain?

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We are in the middle of a full blown arguement in the office where I work and I hope to find a solution here.

A lady from Poland corrected a colleague of mine for asking " Do you like the rain?"

She said that he had asked the question wrong and it was in fact "Do you like rain?"

I explained that I thought it was "the" rain as it's a specific type of weather from a group.

I thought I was ahead, but then she contered that you would not say "Do you like the sleet?"

She's right, it sounds rubbish!

 

I'm not a clever person, so please explain it in layman terms.

 

Any help in bringing peace back to our office would be much appreciated.

asked Oct 03 '12 at 19:00 Bert New member

3 answers


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Rain is the type of noun that does not need an article, but that doesn't mean it can't have one.

 

"Do you like rain?" is a very general question.  It can be asked of anyone at any time. 

 

Adding the word "the" to the sentence indicates a specific rain - either in a location or at a certain time.

 

If I were to vacation in Seattle, someone might ask if I liked the rain there, since it is commonly thought to rain there often.  The person isn't asking if I like rain in general, just the rain that I saw in Seattle.

 

Another example is when someone asks, "Did you like the rain last night?"  I might answer, "Oh, yes!  My flowers were very happy this morning."  Again, the person isn't asking if I like rain all the time, just the rain that happened last night.

 

You can indeed ask a person if they liked the sleet, but you bought into her argument because you would likely never ask someone that.  The answer will always be no, so there is no reason to ask.  Along the same lines, many people will like the snow when they are on a ski vacation but not like snow when they are home and have to drive to work every day. 

link answered Oct 03 '12 at 19:38 Patty T Grammarly Fellow

As for returning peace to the office, that depends on how deep someone wants to dig their heels in. Yesterday, a guy told me I should make sure to update my old iPhone because Microsoft recently came out with a new operating system. When I told him that made no sense, he decided that I was technilogically challenged and vehemently started arguing. Rather than try to make my point, I let it drop.

Patty TOct 03 '12 at 19:43

Thank you very much Patty!You have no idea how embarrassed I felt. I'm the only English native speaker in the office and I was unable to answer a seemingly simple question about "the".

BertOct 03 '12 at 20:04

Oh believe me, I'd have been in the canteen like a shot. The discussion came up between a German a and Polish lady after they had visited a company English course. I know when I'll be having my lunch-break in future, when their course finishes.

BertOct 03 '12 at 20:09

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This is one of those where you will have to settle for an honourable draw (like in an English cricket match lasting 5 days where both sides are happy with no result).

 

Both usages are correct, and in this particular instance they are completely interchangeable. Do you like the rain? and Do you like rain? can both refer to rain in general and the specific rain that might be falling at the time of the question.

 

You'll hear all sorts of theories which attempt to explain the mysterious art of English article usage, but this is one of those occasions where you have to hold your hands up and say, "Sorry! That's just how it is . . ."

 

Living in Warsaw, I've lost count of the number of times I've had to "apologise" to non-native authors and English-speaking Poles about our articles.

link edited Oct 03 '12 at 19:59 Peter Guess Expert

Thank you Peter.I'll take your advice and that was also my gut feeling.... I'm running next time they start bickering about nonsense.

BertOct 03 '12 at 20:17

Next time you're pushed into a corner regarding articles, try asking (if the person is a native Polish speaker) if they would like to try and justify having twenty-two variations on the word "dwa" (two) according to its grammatical role in a sentence.

Peter GuessOct 03 '12 at 21:07

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I almost agree with Peter, but not quite. Either version can represent rain in general. You really have to know the context, hear the tone of voice, and see the body language to decide whether "the rain" is meant to be general or specific.

 

But in American usage, "rain" (without the article) is seldom used to mean a specific rain. The two are interchangeable in one direction, but not both..

link answered Oct 04 '12 at 03:37 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

Yes, that's right. If one of two people standing in the rain asked, "Do you like rain," it would mean rain in general.

Peter GuessOct 04 '12 at 10:22

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