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Do we write in the recent years or in recent years? For example,

In the recent years, the influence of blablabla on blablabla has grown rapidly.

In recent years, the influence of blablabla on blablabla has grown rapidly.

As far as I know, both are correct. But which one sounds more natural (more correct from a native speaker's point of view) or does it not matter?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Native speakers would generally prefer the second. The article is unnecessary and awkward. Both are correct. Personally, I find them all awkward and am much more likely to say things like "over the last few years" or just "recently".

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I someone said "In the recent years" I would understand him quite well, but I would know that English is not his native language. –  GEdgar Feb 29 '12 at 15:13
    
How would you know that, @GEdgar? It could be a native speaker trying to deceive or mislead you. –  jwpat7 Feb 29 '12 at 16:39

In the recent years is hardly found at all. Compared with in recent years, Ngrams shows a flat line for its use. The British National Corpus has two records for it, against 2344 for in recent years. The figures from the Corpus of Contemporary American English are 11 and 9450.

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Purely my opinion, but it seems to me "recent years" is normally only used in relation to the present. I don't think you can properly say, for example, "In 1916, Einstein, who had in recent years worked at the Swiss Patent Office, was appointed president of the German Physical Society". Google Books initially says there are about 1,410,000 results for that highlighted text, but scrolling through them eventually reveals just 175 - of which quite a few are just duplicates. –  FumbleFingers Feb 29 '12 at 15:39
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@FumbleFingers: That seems right. The OED’s first definition is ‘Done or made in a period of the past comparatively close to the present; that has just happened or taken place.’ However, the BNC gives us this, from Margaret Drabble: ‘He was loyal to the old Left, was Alan, unlike their turncoat father who had in recent years been wooed by, and had, it seemed, espoused, the radical Right.' –  Barrie England Feb 29 '12 at 15:46
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I didn't mean to imply it could never be used that way, just that it's at least "unusual". Arguably Drabble's usage is "artistic license" intended to inject a sense of immediacy into the bygone period of which she's writing. –  FumbleFingers Feb 29 '12 at 15:59
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@FumbleFingers: Agreed. –  Barrie England Feb 29 '12 at 16:26

As David said, in the example you provide, the article is awkward and unnecessary. Yet there are times when the article would be warranted, depending on the opening clause:

  • In the past, the influence of blablabla on blablabla grew rapidly.
  • Over the past two years, the influence of blablabla on blablabla has grown rapidly.
  • In the days ahead, the influence of blablabla on blablabla is expected to grow rapidly.

In the first two examples, the article is needed. In the third, the article could be included or omitted, but I'd prefer to include it.

I don't know if there's a surefire guideline that always describes when to include or omit the article.

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Thanks for the additional information. I will accept Davids answer, though, because it more directly answers the question. –  joergl Feb 29 '12 at 12:14

I'm reading an article titled "A Corpus Analysis of (The) Last/Next+ Temporal Nouns" in the Journal of English Linguistics by Isaiah WonHo Yoo, and he writes that in constructions like "last year" the addition of the definite article shifts the focus, or the initial point in time coordinates, in this way:

(The year is 2013 and a person is speaking of his friend's earlier statement:)

He said in 2003 we will travel abroad together next year. (meaning, in 2014)

Putting in THE shifts the focus to the person in the phrase:

He said in 2003 we will travel abroad together the next year. (meaning, in 2004)

FumbleFingers mentioned this aspect in his comments at this page.

Maybe this THE-induced transformation with "last\next + a temporal noun" is relevant to "in recent years" also.

In the article, I. Yoo uses the terms "deictically anchored coding time" vs. "undeictically anchored predicated time". (see deixis at Wikipedia)

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I don't think it's a matter of correctness. Both might be grammatical, but "in recent years" is an established idiom, while "in the recent years" isn't. That's why the first sounds more "natural" - it's not matter of grammar, but of popularity and accepted usage.

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