"La balena beve l'acqua."
Translation:The whale drinks water.
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The whale drinks the water it's in, not just any water in general. It does not drink fresh water, for example. Therefore the article (it's also required in English).
Teaching the use of the definite article is behind the scope of Duolingo, so it's maybe better to check it on any good grammar site.
In Italian, using an article like this means it's a habitual practice, rather opposite to English in which the lack of an article in this context means it's a habitual practice.
La balena beve l'acqua = The whale drinks water (general habit)
La balena beve acqua = The wale is drinking water (specific instance)
Rae. F: I'm afraid it's the other way around.
La balena beve acqua is a general 'habit', with no reference to specific water.
La balena beve l'acqua is a specific instance, referring to the water mentioned before or a special water.
Another example: le mucche producono latte -> that is what they do.
Le mucche producono il latte -> the milk used in that farm, for that cheese, sold in that store.
Es gab nichts bess’res für den Wal als eisgekühlten Ginger Aal.
It’s a German pun, meaning: There was nothing better for the whale than ice-cooled ginger ale/eel.
Here’s a fitting illustration: http://apfelhase.de/post/176147591631/es-gab-nichts-bessres-für-den-wal-als
I wrote "the whale drinks the water" and my answer was accepted, but the translation at bottom lacked the "the" before "water". I was of the impression that if you meant the specific item and not that item generally, then you use the article. Duolingo should pick a horse and update the exercises across its system accordingly.