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Which would be correct?

  • The fridge, the shelves, the walls, the floor, and John himself, were all covered in foam.
  • The fridge, shelves, walls, floor, and John himself, were all covered in foam.

The the can be applied to all the nouns, so is there a need to repeat it?

4 Answers 4

1

Using the definite article for each item in a list is redundant. "The fridge, shelves, walls, floor, and John himself, were all covered in foam," is the best phrasing.

6
  • Redundant = wrong?
    – jules
    Jun 19, 2014 at 14:10
  • 1
    Not wrong, but pleonastic.
    – Mr Cochese
    Jun 19, 2014 at 14:18
  • It's not redundant. And it doesn't follow the distributive property.
    – Kris
    Jun 19, 2014 at 15:23
  • @jules: redundant is never wrong. It is merely always redundant. That's why redundant and wrong are two different words. Otherwise they'd be the same word.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jun 19, 2014 at 21:15
  • @jules, no redundant does not imply wrong, however in most cases it is best to be as conscise as possible, so it is important to use redundancy intentionally.
    – Gaius619
    Jun 20, 2014 at 14:48
1

Both are correct; the use of the article changes the tone slightly. Another alternative might be "The fridge, shelves, walls, and floor, and John himself, were all covered in foam." This puts a little more emphasis on the fact that John too was covered in foam.

EDIT: It's over-described, and so might be used to express a tone of exasperation more forcefully than if the article was not included.

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  • 1
    What's the difference of tone you're speaking of?
    – jules
    Jun 19, 2014 at 13:59
  • 1
    Thanks to @jules for suggesting I incorporate that comment into the answer. Jun 19, 2014 at 15:14
  • They are not the same -- syntactically or semantically. The definite article makes a difference.
    – Kris
    Jun 19, 2014 at 15:22
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    No different sentences can be the same; that's obvious. But two different sentences can both describe the same situation in a given context, and that's generally all people care about. There are always nuances that can be reached for, if one is reading and has time to find them (and if one trusts the skill of the writer); but in speech they are largely irrelevant and ignored. Jun 19, 2014 at 16:56
  • Yes; use of the repeated article tends to be ponderous, but is not incorrect. It is a style choice, punctuating the read with a staccato, focusing effect, if read accordingly. Imagine 'The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe'. May 12 at 11:19
0

Unless it makes the meaning unclear, I'd normally omit the definite article after the first item in a list. As Cochese said, it's "pleonastic".

-3

The definite article does not follow any kind of distributive property in this example.

Unless each of the nouns is preceded by the definite article, they are understood to not have the definite article.

The fridge, shelves, walls, floor, and John himself, were all covered in foam.

can be:

The fridge, (the/some/all/two) shelves, (the/some/all/two) walls, (the/some unspecified) floor, and John himself, were all covered in foam.

which is not:

The fridge (that I was telling you about), the shelves (you know which), the walls (you can guess which), the (specific) floor, and John himself, were all covered in foam.

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  • 1
    It seems it deos. If I used "its" instead of "the", no repetition would be necessary. "Its fridge, shelves, walls, (and) floor, and John himself." NOT "Its fridge, its shelves, its walls, its floor, and John himself." Right?
    – jules
    Jun 19, 2014 at 17:00
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    They are all understood to have the definite article, barring interference (one cannot apply the to John simply because one never applies the to John unless one is distinguishing between multipe Johns).
    – bye
    Jun 19, 2014 at 18:25
  • Looking at it logically you are identifying the particular fridge, shelves, walls, and floor, so it's as if you used "the" with each. If it was a floor in a completely different room you would have to identify it as being different. "The fridge, shelves, walls, a floor down the corridor, and John himself, were all covered in foam."
    – Stuart F
    May 12 at 9:40

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