'The' use of 'the' (The dinner was cooking when I arrived at Jane's.)

The dinner was cooking when I arrived at Jane’s.

This is a test question. I think it should be:
Dinner was cooking when I arrived at Jane’s.

I have no answer key and I’ve checked several references. “The” is used when we are talking about something particular the speaker recognizes. So I’m not sure why it’s wrong, can some one help me with the reason…please…

Or am I wrong and “The” can be used this way??

Thanks in advance for your assistance as always I am deeply grateful to have access to such wells of knowledge:)

Warmest regards,


I might be wrong, but here goes…

Can dinners cook? I think it should be ‘The dinner was being cooked…’

Regards to you as well.

Spot-on Ski.

Belles, the article " the " can be used or left out of your sentence.

Thank you, you are both right, i think:) and my heros! The problem isn’t with “the” but the sentence is passive voice instead. Thank you, millions. Belles

Hello Belles,

Your feeling that the word “the” should be omitted was basically a very good one. The most common way to word that sentence would be without the word “the”.

However, if you want to make the reference to “dinner” much more specific for some reason (e.g. in order to refer to “dinner” as a special event), the word “the” can be added.

So, I wouldn’t say the use of “the” is wrong in your sentence, but it would have been nice to have a bit more context that justified the use.

Hello SkiIuck,

Yes, they can.

The word “cook” falls into a category of verbs known as “ergative verbs”. Here are a few more examples:

  • The water was boiling on the stove.
  • The snow melted.
  • A line formed behind me.

If you want to read more about ergative verbs, there is a write-up here, for example:

Take care.

[size=92]It takes less time to do a thing right than it does to explain why you did it wrong.[/size]

Thank you. :wink:


Alternatively if you don’t like words like ‘ergative’ to describe verbs, you can also describe them as able to take an object or not according to their function/meaning in a sentence. You can therefore say: Charlie has grown six inches (become taller by six inches) since I last saw him (no object). You can also say: Charlie has grown all his own vegetables (cultivated them) since I last saw him(object).


Interesting Alan, very informative conversation everyone I will definitely read the link. What I gave you is all I had to go on. I’m trying to prepare an esl test and that was one of the test questions in the quiz which i downloaded. It is a quandry to say the least. I edited the question to say what is wrong here.

“The lamb was cooking when we arrived.”

I don’t know if this is better or suffers from the same problem? What an enigmatic statement, i am finding. Best, Belles

Belles, with this sentence the article " the " is definitely needed.