I ain't an English native speaker but I understand

(1) "This band is shit"

as negative (i.e. a very bad band), and

(2) "This band is the shit"

as positive (i.e. an extremely good band). I would convey, in French, the former as

(1) Ce groupe est nul

and the latter as

(2) Ce groupe est absurdement super.

A. What other ways exist to express the same meaning with (1) and (2) using words of similar register with shit. E.g.

(1) Ce groupe est merde

can convey the first meaning (i.e. the negative one)?

B. Are there any examples of phrases in French, that the lack of a definite article as above, completely changes the meaning of a sentence?

2 Answers 2


Absence or presence of a determiner, and especially articles usually separates some constructions in all languages that have then (In English, it separate mass and count nouns, for example). This case, however, is more a peculiarity of English, or more specifically in how English has distinguished here the positive versus the negative use of shit, as opposed to something that one might expected to see mirrored in any way by other languages.

Even in English, it is a very unusual distinction and you don't even see it in other English words that are used to mean both "terrible" and "amazing" such as sick or mad.


My example would be the ubiquitous distinction between e.g. "plus vite" and "le plus vite" (i.e. "faster" vs. "fastest) or "meillure" vs. "le meillure" (better vs. best). The presence or absence of the article changes the meaning idiomatically. For me this is reminiscent of the large difference between e.g. being "shit" and being "the shit". Actually, it wouldn't surprise me if analogy to the French were the origin of the "to be the shit" construction as a superlative.

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