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Are there any simple rules for article usage (“a” vs “the” vs none)

Which is correct?

  1. Everyone knows what a proton is.
  2. Everyone knows what the proton is.
  3. Everyone knows what proton is.
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marked as duplicate by jwpat7, Mahnax, Matt Эллен, John Lawler, Jasper Loy Jun 17 '12 at 19:27

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2 Answers 2

Everyone knows what a proton is.

This is the most-used construct.

Everyone knows what the proton is.

This structure is a bit old-fashioned for general use, but is commonplace in scientific contexts.

Everyone knows what proton is.

This is ungrammatical. A correct way to say it is everyone knows what protons are.

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Option 2 seems to emphasize "proton" as an ontological value. Option 3 sounds more abstract than 1, in the sense that "proton" could be a quality and not a noun, as in the case of "a proton". I'd say that being right or wrong depends on what you are writing. Withouth the specific context, any of them could be right.

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