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I am confused about the usage of "the" before European, British. I am able to find situations where "the" before European, to denote the people of Europe, and the European army to denote the army of Europe. However, I was equally able to find "the" not being used before European when they are denote non-living or emotional things. Like "European raw materials". Please advise me on this!

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1 Answer 1

Perhaps this pair of examples shows the particularisation that the definite article confers on a noun group (and focusing attention solely on the the, if present, before British):

British trees have to be able to withstand cold wet winters.

The British trees are in the south-east part of the arboretum.

Without the the, we're making a general statement about those species of trees native to Britain.

When the the is included, it indicates that we have some particular subset of some larger set - a collection in a garden centre, or a planting in a large arboretum containing trees from many countries - in mind, and we are conveying that sense.

The British Army is a particular (though not constant) body / organisation, and so takes the.

'Raw materials' would usually be used in a general sense, thus without the the. Unless there is particularisation - pre-reference (again, focusing attention solely on the the before raw materials):

We will be having the sand, cement and timber delivered this morning, and the builders will arrive after lunch. The raw materials should be unloaded near the site hut.

or post-reference:

The raw materials needed to make concrete are:

With Europeans, unless a particular subset is being referenced, the the is largely optional:

(The) Europeans do like their wine.

There is a complicating factor with British. It is not a noun (European is both adjective and noun). But it may be used as a noun (though it retains its classification as an adjective). When those adjectives that may be used this way are used this way, the the is usually mandatory: The rich; the poor; the lame; the British.

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I'm not too bothered personally about the anonymous downvotes, but if what I consider to be a helpful and accurate answer is signalled as in some way defective - without any explanation - I feel that some other vehicle may be necessary to help genuine enquirers. A pity, because I've enjoyed contributing to and learning from this website. It is true that the question is not targeted too well, but in such a complex area (Cobuild have a 100-page monograph on articles) should one expect a precisely framed question? –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 30 '13 at 10:07
    
This is a very good answer, and I hope you won't be offended if I say yoursecond example is confusing. It contains three the's, only the third of which is relevant to your point. Using or omitting the second will change the meaning slightly, and the first is only right if there has been previous reference to these materials (normally it would be some or nothing at all) –  TimLymington Mar 30 '13 at 12:43
    
No, Tim - it's the negative tag that may arise, probably from someone who has not enjoyed an opinion contrary to their own pet one in a different thread, with no explanation - signalling that an answer is unsound - that concerns me. Point taken about the example - it's hard to avoid the's and still sound natural - but I was assuming that re-using the OP's noun-group choice of 'raw materials', and the indication of pre-referencing for that example, would identify the particular the being considered. I've now tightened the explanations. –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 30 '13 at 15:58

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