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"Gas prices are going up." Which of the following is also a general statement about gas prices:

  • The price of gasoline is going up.
  • The gas price is going up.

And could you tell me why? I have this question because although I know, for example, both "Tigers are big" and "The tiger is big" are generic constructions, but I am not sure how to use "the" when it is a noun phrase instead of a single noun.

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"The price of gasoline is going up" is the standard and idiomatic generic statement. "Gas prices are going up" is another standard and idiomatic way of saying the same thing. "The tiger is big" is ambiguous because it can refer to the tiger in general or to a specific tiger, depending on context. –  user21497 Feb 4 '13 at 15:54
    
@BillFranke How about "Prices of gasoline are going up" or "The gas prices are going up"? Are they also correct to talk about the gas price in general? –  user37060 Feb 4 '13 at 16:22
    
Bill, I don't see why the Tiger example would seem ambiguous, to you. Saying "The tiger is big", would mean that the speaker is talking about one, particular Tiger. –  Tristan Feb 4 '13 at 18:02
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@Tristan: Of all the felines (lions, tigers, cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, etc.), the tiger is the biggest. –  Scott Feb 5 '13 at 4:36
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@Tristan: Thirdly, I believe that most people would interpret “the tiger” in my sentence to mean the tiger species, not an individual. That was the point of my comment –– to give an example where the phrase “the tiger” referred to many tigers (all tigers) rather than one, particular tiger. // Also, why are you capitalizing “Tiger” when it’s not the first word in the sentence? –  Scott Feb 13 '13 at 0:03
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3 Answers

I would change your second example ("The gas price is going up") to "The price of gas is going up" or "Gas prices are going up."

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Both are general, but there are subtle differences in nuance. The first one is more standard: used both in daily conversation and in the news. The second one is rarely ever used in the States. I can't say if the other English speaking countries use it or not. But the feeling of the sentence is not native-like; it almost has hints of a dependent clause. "The price of gas is going up ~~~.

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The crux of this question involves the pairing of subjects that appear near the beginning of the sentence (in the original example, gasoline and prices). I don't think that any general rule satisfactorily disposes of all such combinations.

Of the poster's two rewritten versions of the original example, "The price of gasoline is going up" sounds natural, but "The gas[oline] price is going up" does not.

On the other hand, consider the subject pair relief and efforts in the sentence "Relief efforts have been successful." Rewriting this statement to match the models provided in the original post, I get "The relief effort has been successful" (which sounds natural) and "The effort for [or toward or in or of] relief has been successful" (which sounds awkward).

Finally, consider the subject pair budget and deficit, in the sentence "Budget deficits are increasing." Here, both "The budget deficit is increasing" and "The deficit in the budget is increasing" sound natural and have virtually identical meanings. But to a U.S. reader, both versions have a more specific meaning than the original plural example does because both implicitly focus on the federal government's budget deficit rather than on budget deficits in general.

To sum up, what sounds right and makes sense in a particular instance depends on so many complicating factors that no usefully predictive general rule governing where and how to use the is possible.

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