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I'm having some trouble deciding whether or not to use "the" in the following sentences:

  • Jack washed (the) windows in his flat last week.

  • She's watering (the) plants in her friend's apartment.

My intuition tells me to opt for the article - the locations of both the plants and the windows were specified, which, as I understand it, would mean that "the" is necessary.

I guess my question should rather be: Is in his flat and in her friend's apartment enough to warrant a definite article?

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    Possible duplicate of Why do people omit the definite article? The answer of Lawrence might help you at there. – Ahmed Oct 8 '18 at 9:38
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    That answer was an attempt at a canonical answer but it ended up getting buried. I am pleasantly surprised that anyone remembered it at all. Thank you, @Ahmed. – Lawrence Oct 8 '18 at 12:04
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Both of these sentences could be correct either way, but the use of the definite article slightly changes the meaning.

If we were to say "Jack washed windows in his flat last week" then we would be emphasizing the action he did last week being a general action.

If we were to say "Jack washed the windows in his flat last week" then we would be emphasizing the thing he washed last week, being specifically his windows.

The next sentence is not quite as easy because you could arguably say that both could have the same meaning in implication, but one could have two emphases in meaning while the other only one could only be an answer in a specific context and not the other.

Both sentences could equally imply the current action going on in this moment. The sentence without the article implies the action more than the item. Whereas if you were to use the article it could emphasize the action, but more likely emphasizes the item than the action.

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Your intuition is correct - include 'the'.

Without further context I would interpret the sentences as follows:

  1. Jack washed the windows in his flat last week = Jack washed all the windows in his flat last week.

  2. Jack washed windows in his flat last week = Jack washed some windows in his flat last week.

Similarly for watering the plants. The version without 'the' are grammatically correct but sound somewhat unusual.

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