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« Maybe determiners aren't so predictable | Main | Do you know what I'm thinking? -- Part II »

February 06, 2004


Ryan Gabbard

hmm - all are unacceptable, but using "a" is better than using "the" for me.


Agreed - none sounds right, but I also think "the The ..." sounds worse than "a The ...".

How about using determiners with proper names that begin with "a" or "an"? "Look, there's an A Pea in the Pod" doesn't sound too bad to me.


On second thought, "the The ..." sounds a little better to me (though still wrong) if I pronounce the first "the" with a long e, and the second with a schwa, than if I pronounce them the same.

language hat

I'm sorry, but I simply don't believe that any native speaker of English has ever said "the The New Republic." Virtually all of the Google hits look to me like simple dittography; if you worked as a professional copy editor, as I do, you would know how common the sequence "the the" is in unedited text (of which the internet largely consists). The one exception I could find is a piece by Alejandro Salinas; I don't want to make the assumption that English is not his native language, but he has problems with articles elsewhere ("the film avoids the lethargic contrivances characteristic of a biopic, and is instead infused with dynamism characteristic of a thriller" -- should be "the dynamism"), not to mention just plain lousy writing. But he unquestionably uses "the The" deliberately, as is clear from this paragraph:

Most readers are probably familiar with Blair, the New York Times' staff writer who concocted and embellished quotes and sources for his articles. But before the Blair scandal rocked the journalism world, there was Stephen Glass. Glass was the young journalist working for the venerably snooty "The New Republic"magazine who was well on his way to becoming a journalist star when it was discovered that he had fabricated most of his stories. Of the 41 published pieces written for the "The New Republic,"27 had been either partially, or entirely, fabricated.

I personally would be reluctant to base any sort of theory on one instance of usage by one person with arguable command of the English language. I can say that I have never heard anyone use a repeated "the" in such a context, and it sounds not just oddball but completely wrong to my linguistic intuition.

And of course determiners get used before proper names: the Ukraine, the Congo, the Nile, the Bruce.

Oh, and none of your sentences work for me.

Semantic Compositions

Whoa there, 'Hat! I didn't say that those examples were things that I say; they were just further examples of things I could conceive of somebody saying given a grammar that admits sequences of determiners.

Here's an example of somebody ON The New Republic's website using "the the", although admittedly we have no idea who it is or what their command of English is like. I'm not convinced it's as rare as you think, although admittedly the usage is probably restricted to people whose writing is not being professionally edited (Mr. Salinas excepted). A casual sampling of Google hits suggests this pops up a lot more on blogs than anywhere else -- I'll post more on that soon, since this seems to be attracting some controversy.

As far as determiners being used before proper names, I'm not sure that all of those examples are identical. If "the Bruce" is part of "Robert the Bruce", just like all the monarchs named "X the #th", I'll happily agree that there is a productive exception to what seems like a general prohibition. But that seems to me a different syntactic construct. If "the Bruce" is a location, and I'm wrong about your intended reference, then...

...that raises the question of whether I simply formulated the intuition incorrectly. One doesn't see "the" in front of people's names, except as a modifier to something else:

*the Ben Affleck
the Ben Affleck movie

Ditto for the magazine titles previously discussed, and at least to my ear, there's definitely a difference in acceptability between the following pairs (involving grocery stores, in case none of these are in your geographic area):

I'm headed to Von's/Ralph's/Albertson's.
I'm headed to ?the Von's/?the Ralph's/?the Albertson's.

The latter sounds odd to me, although not completely ungrammatical. In a slightly different context, it sounds OK:

I'm headed to the Von's on First Street.

I agree that this isn't much to base a theory on, though, which is why I became a computationalist -- the evidence is certainly sparse, and intuitions are subject to too much disagreement to be reliable.

The Anonymous Coward

It seems to me like doubling up articles like that is always to be avoided.

If I were to attach an adjective to a title like 'The New Republic' I would say something like "the controversial 'New Republic', which..." and split the name, even though "the" is part of the name. Use the article in the name as it is intended to be used, or if you see "a the" or "the a", drop the wrong one, even if it is the one which is part of the name. So not "...there's a The Gap," but "...there's a Gap."

language hat

The Anonymous Coward is exactly correct about what I take to be English usage. And I saw that TNR page you link to; the context is:

Previous editions of the The New Republic are available for print or digital subscribers in PDF format. If you are a subscriber but are not currently logged in, please use the login box above.

It looks to me as though The New Republic has been plugged in to a preexisting format which may have read "the [name of magazine]" or the like. At any rate, it's clearly not a sample of normal text; it's boilerplate, which is notoriously subject to mishap. Like almost every other hit I clicked on, it seems to me an example of inadvertent duplication (dittography). In other words, it's not a "usage" at all, merely a mechanical error having no relevance to the analysis of language (any more than "teh" and "langugae," which I originally typed). I may be wrong, but the odds are on my side. If you can turn up an audio recording of someone saying "the the" (and I don't mean a reference to the band The The), I'll abandon this entire line of argument, but I'm not holding my breath.

And I was referring to Robert the Bruce, who is often referred to as "the Bruce"; it's not at all parallel to Henry the Eighth. Heads of Scottish clans were (and I suppose are in antiquarian circles) referred to as "the MacDonald" &c.

Totally off-topic, the very name "Von's" makes me nostalgic for my SoCal days. Hey, remember Cal Worthington Dodge? "Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal..."

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