This is my first post here so I hope the format of my question is correct.

I am wondering whether it is necessary to use the definite article before physical quantities named after people, e.g.:

The Heisenberg interaction comes from a complex interplay between the Pauli exclusion principle and the Coulomb interaction.

I think that it is incorrect to use the definite article if the name is in its possessive form:

Can you explain Maxwell's equations to me?

but that we should put the article if the name is in its subjective form:

Can you explain the Maxwell equations to me?

Is this correct?

marked as duplicate by Laurel, Mari-Lou A, Robusto, choster, Nigel J Mar 26 '18 at 20:26

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You are correct. You could change your first sentence to:

Heisenberg's interaction comes from a complex interplay between Pauli's exclusion principle and Coulomb's interaction.

And it would still make grammatical sense. However I would argue that although a principle or set of equations (or law) are quite explicit, an "interaction" isn't quite so well defined. Adding the definite article clears this up for non-experts. Although this is unlikely with the above sentence (at least for physicists), it may be possible for a reader to interpret that as a sentence about two people called Heisenberg and Coulomb having some sort of interaction!

On the other hand, I would never refer to "The Newton law of gravity". In that case, I would always use the possessive.

  • 1
    "Heisenberg's interaction" just doesn't sound right to me. "Heisenberg's Interaction Principle" perhaps. – John Go-Soco Feb 26 '18 at 14:11

It depends.

The presence of the definite article before a law or principle depends on the general usage of the term to date. This applies to laws in the legal sense as well.

For example, the Mann Act and the Pauli Exclusion Principle are always mentioned with the definite article. On the other hand, Newton's Laws of Motion and Hauser's Law are not, and instead imply ownership of the eponymous law by the discoverer/proposer.

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