I'm pretty sure I have to use the in 'The people/citizens of this city speak a dialect' but when I try to use another preposition, instead of of, it doesn't seem right. I don't know why. Do I have to use 'the' in the following sentences assuming that those things have never been mentioned before in a conversation. I'm talking the specific use of the definite article

  1. (The) people in the city still speak a dialect. (not just any people but those who live in this city)

  2. (The) shirts in this store are cheap (.....in this store)

  3. (The) Americans in Russia try to learn the Russian language (and so on)

  4. I don't like (the) reviews on this site

  5. I read (the) books by John Summers

Or there's a difference in the meaning with and without the definite article?

  • 1
    See a related question. In this case, you are limiting the generality of the zero article, so there is no difference in meaning.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 2, 2013 at 8:25
  • According to the link, There's a difference. I have to use the definite article cos the prepositions limit the groups in my examples. Am I missing something?
    – Dunno
    Aug 2, 2013 at 11:36
  • I would use all of these sentences without "the", including the first one. It seems that the definite article itself implies limiting the generality of the entire noun phrase, with prepositions and all. Aug 3, 2013 at 22:39

1 Answer 1


For 1 and 3, 'the' tends to suggest all, or perhaps more precisely, the lack of 'the' implies some.

For 2, the presence or absence of 'the' doesn't really imply anything, strangely enough.

For 4, 'I don't like the reviews on this site' would suggest that you have looked at some or all of the reviews and generally disliked them.

'I don't like reviews on this site' would suggest that you prefer that the site not have reviews at all, in principle, suggesting nothing about whether you had looked at any reviews in particular.

For 5, 'I read books by John Summers', it's a bit complicated. Consider the tense of 'read':

In the present tense, 'I read books by John Summers' means that you have read and generally plan to continue reading some or all of his books.

In the past tense, 'I read books by John Summers' means that at some point in the past you read some, but probably not all, of his books.

In the present tense, 'I read the books by John Summers' is not something a native speaker would say, but 'I am reading the books by John Summers' suggests that you are talking about a set of books including both books by John Summers and books by other authors, and you are reading some or all of those by John Summers and excluding those by other authors.

In the past tense, 'I read the books by John Summers' it would also suggest a larger set from which you have read his books and excluded those by other authors.

  • As a native English speaker, I agree with all of these remarks, but it's still just a point-by-point analysis of each example sentence -- I think the OP is looking for the principle(s) behind this.
    – Ben Lee
    Aug 5, 2013 at 18:43
  • 1
    I hoped that the point-by-point would give him an idea of the principles and the associated complexity. Aug 5, 2013 at 19:08
  • @BenLee You're right. That's what I'm trying to figure out. I know English is sometimes more about guidelines than rules. But so far I've been able to break everything down to the smallest thing. It's not that complex at all
    – Dunno
    Aug 6, 2013 at 8:43
  • @GreatBigBore First of all. I gotta I really appreciate your detailed thoughts on this. Number 5 killed right off the bat though :D I'm still struggling to wrap my head around this. My preliminary theory. The whole thing has got soemthing to do with whether negative, place in a sentence, a type of a noun and verb. 1 and 3 it makes total sense **some vs all. However what did you mean by more precisely? What makes number 2 special in comparison with 1 and 3? The differences I see are people vs things and to be vs speak.
    – Dunno
    Aug 6, 2013 at 8:55
  • @GreatBigBore Number 4, can this idea be applied to I don't buy (the) dairy products in this shop, We don't sell (the) films by this company and We don't trade with (the) countries in Asia. Something's telling me this is as complex as number 5. Something to do with a type of a verb :)) The funny thing I've noticed it does seem to work with senteces containing the preposition of mostly. The directors of the company are making changes , The members of the team work really hard and the maps of mars are really detailed. Am I off? :D
    – Dunno
    Aug 6, 2013 at 9:09

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