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Definite article with plural nouns

I recently reviewed (as I believe, rather thoroughly) the rules of using articles in English and I do not recall any rule on absence of definitive article THE with plural nouns.

Can you give me a reference on such a rule?


marked as duplicate by kiamlaluno, RegDwigнt, Robusto, ShreevatsaR, Kosmonaut Feb 2 '11 at 3:54

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

@kiamlaluno, this is not duplicate, this is anti-duplicate. In that post you postulated a rule of absence and was answered on this. Here I ask whether such rule exists anв ask for refs on it. –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 1 '11 at 6:12
Omission of English articles: englishlearningpractices.blogspot.com/2009/04/… –  Muaz Khan Feb 1 '11 at 9:57
And also: eslmonster.com/article/… –  Muaz Khan Feb 1 '11 at 10:01
@Muaz Khan those websites are not so useful. The first one is poor quality. –  Theta30 Dec 17 '11 at 4:57
Some users seem to be duplicate-happy (i.e., overly eager to mark as duplicate). Or, should I say close-happy? –  phaedrus Feb 8 '12 at 12:43

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Plural nouns with the definite article are, well, definite. Consider

Cats don't like me.


The cats don't like me.

The former implies every cat on Earth doesn't like me; the latter, that some (contextually obvious) specific group of cats don't like me.


In my opinion, yes, unmemorize that reference in your other question and memorize the following:

  • use the definite article with a plural only to denote a known or stated subset of the class ("The elephants [in this zoo] are dangerous"); omit the article for the whole class ("Elephants [all of them] are dangerous").
  • Use an indefinite article with a singular to denote the whole class when you want to emphasize the singular nature ("A glass of wine is healthy, but two can lead to dissolution.")
  • Use the definite article with a singular when referring to a specific instance or when you need, for some reason, to sound like Sir David Attenborough in a BBC nature documentary ("The elephant is a regal creature, reigning over his home, the savanna ...").

Of course, an indefinite article with a plural ("An elephants are dangerous") and omitting articles with the singular of a countable noun ("Elephant is dangerous") are both just wrong, wrong, wrong.

My question is about a rule describing the cases of absence of definite article "the", not cases of its use/presence. –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 1 '11 at 8:08
Perhaps you could be more specific. How many different "cases" are there? If it isn't there, it isn't there. –  Malvolio Feb 1 '11 at 17:09
This is really my question - what is the rule of omitting "the" with plurals? –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 2 '11 at 6:55
Mmmm, "omit the 'the' when the plural refers to all members of the class, instead of just a specified subset." –  Malvolio Feb 2 '11 at 16:02
+1 Great answer, exposes the rules intuitively, great examples, thanks! –  Laurent Couvidou Apr 29 '13 at 9:30

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