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
- 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
- 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.
Two years later and I realize another rule: "the" is used to mark adjectives that have been promoted to nouns. When Paul Revere said, "The British are coming", he was referring to the British 10th Regiment of Foot, not to every subject of King George, so the "the" was de rigeur under the above rule.
However, when Quentin Crisp wrote, "The British do not expect happiness,” he did mean every single Briton. The "the" is only necessary to make it clear that the word "British" is being used as a noun. With an ordinary noun, it would be different. "Plumbers [all plumbers] do not expect happiness" but "The plumbers [in London] do not expect happiness."
Compare Jacques Brel's lyric, "The naked and the dead should hold each others' hands" with Dean Wormer's line, "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life." "Naked" and "dead" are nouns (or adjectives being used as nouns); "fat", "drunk", and "stupid" are adjectives, which is why he uses "is" instead of "are": the subject of the verb is "no way".