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Can we say “A horse is a useful animal” = “The horse is a useful animal” without a difference in meaning?

Sender Ahmed_btm
Position Teacher

When we are classifying things, we can make a general statement or give a descriptive label. This can be done in three ways: singular with a, plural, singular with the.

A horse is a useful animal. 
We are saying here that a horse is one example of a class of objects called useful animals. A cow is another one; so is a sheep. This is a sort of definition in which we are thinking of one horse at a time.
We can also use the plural:
Horses are useful animals.
We are thinking of the whole species now, but the meaning is the same.
We can also use the in classifying statements. This is usually more formal.
The horse is a useful animal.
However, there are times when we are referring to the whole species, not just to an individual example. Then we cannot use a/an.
The tyrannosaurus is extinct.
Tyrannosauruses are extinct.
A tyrannosaurus is extinct.    (An individual tyrannosaurus cannot be extinct. Only the species can.)
The Grammar Reviews in Sec 1 and Sec 2 say to use the and the singular for general statements about animals. This is a simplification of the grammar so that students can avoid the issue of semantic restrictions.
See here for more.
ed. 28/11/12




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