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Q: Do you say, "play piano" or "play the piano"?

 I've got a Chinese  English grammar book for middle school on my desk. It says, "before the names of musical instruments, the definite article THE is required". I asked my Canadian colleague today, he said it doesn't matter because many people say, " play piano, play guitar". I understand that when  I'm talking about a particular instrument (this / that piano) I need to say THE.  What if I'm not talking about any particular instrument, just want to ask if a person can play (the) piano, (the) guitar, etc.?

7 years 4 days ago in  Teaching & Learning - China

 
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To my ears "play piano" sounds odd.

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7 years 4 days ago
 
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I guess it could go either way.  With sports, for example, you say "Play golf", "Play football:, etc...

 

For other things like the lottery, for example, you would say "play the lottery", not "play lottery".

 

Basically, if you are talking about an activity in general, you would not use the word "the".  But when you are talking about a specific instrument, you would use the word "the".

 

However, I am not an English teacher, so I could be horribly wrong.

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7 years 4 days ago
 
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Grammatically, it is "play the (instrument). Can you play the piano? Can you play the guitar? Can you play an instrument? Can you play a guitar?

 

Articles are used in front of Nouns.

"A" or "An" are always singular.

"The" is singular or plural.

Some plural nouns don't use an article.

When using articles, it's important to also know the difference between count and non-count nouns.

 

"can you play two guitars?"; "I can play two pianos at the same time".

You wouldn't say "Can you play pianos?" or "I can play pianos at the same time".

Please review count and non-count nouns for more information.

 

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7 years 4 days ago
 
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Peasant

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All I know is that I do play the piano. 

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7 years 4 days ago
 
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another proof that native English speakers should never be fully trusted with their English skills

 

It's "play the piano".

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7 years 4 days ago
 
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  I say "Cantaloupes are a must for all lovers of fine wine." But then, I have no idea what i'm talking about, i'm extremely drunk. And you with the down-thumb can suck my bollocks you fag.

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7 years 4 days ago
 
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Your Canadian co-worker is right. Perhaps using the 'the' grammatically, but in common speech it is very common to not use it.

Can you play guitar? just as common to say as Can you play the guitar.

 

I play bass, he plays the guitar, she plays electric guitar, and he's on the drums.

 

People who speak fluent English do not use 'the' all the time. 

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7 years 4 days ago
 
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Yes, and that's why they have grammar rules. When they're not followed, languages get more complicated than necessary. I use "the" all the time.

 

Many native speakers forget their basic grammar rules and they carry this with them throughout life. Chinese never learn them, so they can't possibly learn them from a Chinglish teacher, using Chinglish books, produced by Chinglish education charlatans.

 

@JustinF "another proof that native English speakers should never be fully trusted with their English skills "

 

I would trust a native speaker who never graduated high school over a Chinese Phd in English who never lived, worked or studied in a native speaking country, and many that have.....

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7 years 4 days ago
 
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both are ok.

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7 years 4 days ago
 
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Governor

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People in this thread seem to be missing two things. Those are the grammatical function of "the" as a determiner, and that many English nouns can be used in mass or count syntax. The syntax of "piano", like any noun, changes what article it uses.

Syntax is how words are used: singular (cat), plural (dogs), mass (information), etc. No article is required for mass syntax nouns. Determiners are articles which refer to things in a context: the girl, my cat, two guitars, etc.

 

As you already know, when you ask if someone can play a specific piano, piano is used in singular syntax, so you use a determiner, the: "Can you play the piano?" 

 

When you ask if they have the skill,  the word piano is being used in mass syntax, so you simply say "Can you play piano?", as no article is necessary when you are using mass syntax. In a way, it is almost like the determiner any is implied when using mass syntax, in this case. Technically, in this context, it would also be correct to say "Can you play pianos?", but that sounds silly to native speakers.

 

If that was confusing, don't feel bad! English is a wonderfully broken language.

 

The same rule applies to a lot of other things, too. Billy is a vegetarian, but he doesn't think you are. So he asks, "Do you eat meat?" Here meat is used in mass syntax, referring to any meat you may have ever eaten. Sandy is looking through her fridge, but can't find her sliced turkey. She wants to know if you ate it. "Did you eat my meat?" : To specify that you ate her sliced turkey and not just any old meat, she used a determiner, my.

For further information, I highly encourage you to visit Wikipedia. People love to hate it, but it really is quite helpful. Here's some information on nouns being used in mass syntax: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_noun

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7 years 4 days ago
 
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Yes, let's teach unknowing non-native speakers to speak even worse. As if the Chinglish they get here isn't bad enough, crimochina. When teachers don't abide by the rules, students believe it's ok to break them, and Chinese youth are even more gullible at following others leads, especially their teachers. As a teacher, it is your responsibility to know the right way. If you don't have a background in education or English, it's time to invest some time into learning about what you're trying to teach here. There are far too many charlatans in china already. bring in foreign charlatans won't make things better.

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7 years 3 days ago
 
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Governor

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Play the piano. But not go to the Wallmart. Franck3

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7 years 3 days ago
 
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