I cannot find the rule for using the definitive article with the word "authority", is it always necessary and what is the grammar rule that I need to know?

Are both these sentences OK or just the second sentence? And what difference does it make. The more I look, the more confused I become.

The teacher has authority to change the data or The teacher has the authority to change the data

2 Answers 2


I would argue that both sentences are correct and have slightly different shades of meaning.

The teacher has authority to change the data.

"We need to change the data but do not have any authority. At least the teacher has some authority and might be able to change the data."

The teacher has the authority to change the data.

"The teacher has enough authority for the purpose of changing the data."

Please note that the previous sentence is technically another example or "authority to" used without an article.

P.S. There are different approaches to grammar: prescriptive and descriptive. Prescriptivists believe in rules-fist approach and sometimes go a bit too far with it; the other answer is a great example of how it looks. Descriptive approach is about looking what people do and building a theory about how language actually works based on the observations.

P.P.S. We have tests on articles here.


"The" is a definite article, as you said, and it is a determiner— a word or phrase that precedes a noun or noun phrase and serves to express its reference in the context. In many contexts, the presence of some determiner, such as "the," is required in order to form a complete noun phrase. The definite article "the" is used when the referent of the noun phrase is assumed to be unique or known from the context. The definite article is not used with generic nouns (plural or uncountable, I mean) or with proper nouns. Basically, the second sentence you wrote is correct because "authority" is neither plural here, nor is authority something you can count, nor is it a proper noun. Saying that somebody "has authority to change..." is like saying "the cat has ball of yarn to play with." Now, that sounds wrong instantly because "ball" is a familiar, simple noun, which we know is not plural, countable, or proper. I hope this helped.

  • 1
    It’s not as cut-and-dried as you suggest. With a generic noun: “The dog’s nose is always wet”. With proper nouns: “The Eiffel Tower”, “The Hague”. The “authority” example is teetering on the fence for me. Change it to “permission” (also not plural, not countable, not a proper noun, per your criteria), and the sentence works without a determined. Interestingly, it (permission) also works with determiners such as my or your but not really with the. You might want to review the reasons given for your answer.
    – Lawrence
    Dec 11, 2018 at 1:44
  • Just a supplement to Lawrence's comment: your answer contains several incorrect statements, and I have downvoted it for that reason. If you correct these statements, I will upvote (please leave a comment beginning with @linguisticturn so that I'll be notified). Here are the problematic statements: Jan 16, 2019 at 10:59
  • 1. You say that the definite article is not used with proper nouns. Not so in general; it depends on the kind of proper noun. Indeed, some classes of proper nouns require the definite article, most notably the names of rivers, streams, and canals (the Nile, the Panama Canal), but there are other classes as well. Of course, there are also classes of proper nouns where, in normal usage, no article is used, e.g. personal names. But even here there are exceptions, e.g. for the purposes of stress (Are you the Paul McCartney?) and with certain titles (the Reverend John Collins). Jan 16, 2019 at 10:59
  • 2. You say that the definite article is not used with 'generic nouns (plural or uncountable, I mean)'. It is not totally clear what you mean by this. In the first place, do you mean to say that generic reference can only be expressed by nouns that are either plural or uncountable? If so, that is incorrect. For example, in the following sentence, the tiger is in the singular, but it has a generic reference: As humans have aggressively encroached on its domain, the tiger is increasingly relying on domestic cattle. Jan 16, 2019 at 10:59
  • 3. Perhaps what you meant to say is this: if we wish to use a plural or uncountable noun to express generic reference, then we don't use the definite article (implying nothing about singular nouns). This is almost correct. There is at least one exception, however: the plural nationality nouns. For example, the Italians has a generic reference in The Italians as a nation are fond of music. Jan 16, 2019 at 10:59

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