What is the correct use of the definite article for the following sentences:

  1. The new procedure reduces THE waste.
  2. The new procedure reduces waste.
  3. The new procedure reduces THE costs.
  4. The new procedure reduces costs.

Can you give a reason for the correct sentences?

Later edit:

From your answers (thank you!), the reasons for "the" are two:

  • waste or costs are mentioned before

  • waste or costs are NOT mentioned before, but it is expected that the kind of waste or costs is known

On the other hand, the reason for using the zero article is when the above reasons for the definite article can not be applied. Now, in the sentence "The new procedure reduces waste," is the waste bound to its general meaning, conveying a bad stuff? But in the context of this sentence, the "new procedure" is something specific, and therefore the waste is bound to this specific domain where the procedure activates. This contradicts the fact that the waste has a general meaning in that sentence. How do we solve it?

  • 1
    All four sentences are correct. There is very slight, if any, difference in meaning between the zero-article and the definite-article versions. Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 20:09
  • The fact that the new procedure is specific does not bind the specific or general nature of any thing that follows it.
    – tunny
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 10:44
  • Yes, you're right! Can the speaker use "the" before "waste" not because the waste is specific, but ONLY because the context of procedure is specific?
    – fathe
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 10:51
  • @fathe. No. The natural meaning of the waste is that it is that waste previously specified.
    – tunny
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 12:13

3 Answers 3


Although all four mean much the same thing, there are shades of meaning.

The new procedure reduces the waste.

-- There is a specific kind of waste in mind. That waste is being alluded to.

The new procedure reduces waste.

-- There is no specific kind of waste in mind.

  • If you do not have a specific kind of waste in mind, then we have the general concept of waste. But if someone has in mind this general concept of waste, is "the" optional?
    – fathe
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 11:02
  • Consider: This valve is used to regulate pressure. We added it to the design of the system to control the pressure that can build up when ..... If you started off by saying "This valve is used to regulate the pressure" you would be alluding to some particular pressure in some particular system, not to the general idea of pressure-regulation.
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 11:21

All four are correct. Consider you have waste, and costs. And then you define a category describing the amount of waste and costs for the last month. Then when you discuss the category of Waste, you say "The Waste". Similarly for Costs.


The distinction between them is that the definite article refers to specific waste and specific cost that have been previously identified. The lack of an article in the other sentences is really an implied indefinite article, which allows it to refers to any waste or cost.

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