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I'm curious about the difference 'the' makes in the following:

Before the hurricane hit, [the] residents were evacuated to a safe town.

I suspect that the 'the'-less version is compatible with a continuation like the following:

...But still a few (residents) chose to remain.

Is the version with the definite article compatible with such a continuation?

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Some languages, French being one of them (to my knowledge), have a strict rule on whether or not the article should be included. English is much more lenient, especially in the case of story writing or informal context. When you write the sentence out with "the", it's as if you're pointing at a group of people and speaking. When you leave it out, it's like you're giving an objective speech to an audience.

If you were to start off a story or report with this sentence, I would suggest against "the" since you have not specified a town or given context for whatever the residents are resident of.

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