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In the following, should there be a "the" in front of "standard of living"?

Assess the extent to which the improvement of standard of living in Japan is dependent on the openness of the economy.

  • Assess the extent to which an improvement in the standard of living in Japan is dependent on the openness of the economy. – aparente001 Sep 18 '16 at 1:14
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Without the definite article 'the', 'standard of living' refers to a generalised use, not related to a particular country/economic bracket etc.

eg With the global rise in the number of retirees, standard of living is seen as a major area of concern for many governments.

Using the phrase to refer to a particular country requires the definite article 'the' for its standard closed specifier function.

In the interest of completeness may I suggest two further changes that may well enhance the grammar: (i) deletion of 'the' before 'improvement'. This is a common construction that leaves open the possibility that there will be a plurality of such improvements; (ii) modifying 'improvement of' to 'improvement in'. This collocation is far more widely used. eg Improvement in healthcare, improvement in the taste of produce, ... (examples abound)

My suggested amended topic heading thus reads: Assess the extent to which improvement in the standard of living in Japan is dependent on the openness of the economy. Hope this helps.

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As this chart shows, in is far more likely than of...

...and as this chart shows, we usually do include the article in OP's context...

But it's really just a stylistic choice, not a matter of right/wrong. Having said that, I think if there are too many of these "potentially optional" articles the text becomes unnaturally "wordy". So I'd remove the earlier one...

...the extent to which the improvement in the standard of living in Japan is [blah blah]

(But then again, I might pluralize improvements anyway. It's all subjective.)

  • So you'd say my sentence is technically correct, but perhaps could be improved stylistically? – Kenny LJ Sep 18 '16 at 2:19
  • Absolutely. You can't do NGram charts for strings of more than 5 words. Google Books allows any length search strings, but it wildly overestimates expected results for strings that happen to include lots of common "glue" words like the improvement in the standard of living. If you search for that string and scroll through the results, there are actually only 25. But if you do the same without the second article, you'll find a total of 26 hits. That's because writers don't like the stylistically clumsy repetition, not because of some grammatical rule or fine semantic distinction. – FumbleFingers Sep 18 '16 at 11:51

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