This question already has an answer here:

If we have several items to mention, which should be separated with or, is this correct to use the for each one? Could it be possible to use one "the" to distribute among them?

For example, which of the following questions is proper?

When we teach this unit, should we focus on the textbook or the presentation?


When we teach this unit, should we focus on the textbook or presentation?

This question differs from the question put in the topic: Is it necessary to use "the" multiple times?, since the separation by the conjunction or has not been addressed in this topic.

marked as duplicate by tchrist, Mitch, Edwin Ashworth, Chenmunka, FumbleFingers Aug 12 '15 at 17:33

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • Firstly, the definite article belongs to the noun following it and unrelated to the conjunction use: of the idealism or the materialism is grammatical and has its uses. However, in the present example, the use of definite article seems incorrect. The concepts are idealism and materialism -- no the before them. – Kris Aug 9 '15 at 10:24
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    Please also visit English Language Learners – Kris Aug 9 '15 at 10:24
  • The examples have been changed to better clarify the question. – Sara Winslet Aug 9 '15 at 10:32
  • The articles still don't sound belong here. It should be "should we focus on idealism or materialism?" This is because idealism and materialism are uncountable nouns. – Peter Shor Aug 9 '15 at 11:25
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    @Kris: Articles do distribute: "the dog and cat" is just as correct as "the dog and the cat". See Ngram. – Peter Shor Aug 9 '15 at 11:28

The can be distributed as provided in the second sentence, so that it is used only once. A similar question on Stack Exchange can be found here.

  • That question asks about the A and the B. This one asks about the A or the B. I don't think you can use that question as a reference for this one. – Peter Shor Aug 9 '15 at 16:51
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    @PeterShor Why would conjunction reduction apply to only one of the two most common coordinating conjunctions but not the other? – tchrist Aug 9 '15 at 16:53
  • @tchrist: grammar is weird; it might not. (Although in this case, I believe it does.) – Peter Shor Aug 9 '15 at 17:01

The citation is from Michael Swan Practical English Usage.

When expressions are joined by and,but,or,*we often leave out repeated articles.

A knife and (a) fork

A knife or (a) fork

When double expressions are preceded by prepositions, the articles can altogether be dropped.

with knife or fork

  • In the third example, the omission of the article is just in case of having more than one noun, right? can't we use "with knife" instead of "with a/the knife"? – Sara Winslet Aug 9 '15 at 19:18
  • In the case of having a preceding preposition. In the first two examples, the author added (a) in brackets, but in this case nor brackets with article. – Turkan Alisoy Aug 9 '15 at 19:19
  • I asked a different question, please read it again – Sara Winslet Aug 9 '15 at 19:23
  • Sorry, but I couldn't quite catch it. – Turkan Alisoy Aug 9 '15 at 19:23

To answer some of the other comments, the articles do belong there, consider

"When we teach this unit, should we focus on textbook or presentation?"

since it is a "specific" unit being discussed. If it were a general unit,

"When we teach units, should we focus on textbook or presentation"

would be fine, since both "textbook" and "presentation" are generic. I would argue that the sentence really needs "either" ...

"When we teach this unit, should we focus on either the textbook or the presentation?"

  • Adding either to that question makes it sound like there's a third alternative ( namely, don't use either one). That doesn't mean the same thing at all. – Peter Shor Aug 9 '15 at 16:53
  • Hi, if there were a third alternative, it would be "When we teach this unit, should we focus on either the textbook, the presentation, or alternative X?" Could you explain why you think it sounds is there is a third option? ie How is if different from "would you like either a hot drink, or a cold drink?" – jamspandex Aug 10 '15 at 18:35
  • The way I understand this, if you ask somebody "would you like to work on either the project report or the personnel file", you are implicitly giving them an option to say neither one. Whereas if you leave out the either, you are telling them to pick one or the other. – Peter Shor Aug 10 '15 at 18:53

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