3

I want to write the following sentence in a compact way:

"The difference between the old scheme and the new scheme lies in..."

Which one of the following is correct?

  1. The difference between the old and new scheme lies in...
  2. The difference between the old and new schemes lies in...
  3. The difference between the old and the new scheme lies in...
  4. The difference between the old and the new schemes lies in...

Option 1 sounds more natural to me but I cannot explain why. More important, English is not my mother tongue. In other words, I would like to know:

  • Is it necessary to repeat the definite article for each element of the list?
  • Does the common object (in this case, the scheme) become plural when it is listed multiple times with different pre-modifiers (in this case, old and new)?
4
  • I'm not sure I understand the first part of your comment. Note that I have slightly changed the sentence to be more precise.
    – TheDon
    Dec 4, 2019 at 12:36
  • Sorry; I'm pressed for time. Have you tried googling "difference between" + "the old and new" (you'll not find much with the premodifiers you've shown!)? There's divided usage. Dec 4, 2019 at 12:41
  • Thank you for your reply. I've tried googling the 4 options and there seems to be a divided usage of all of them (perhaps the fourth occurs less frequently). But more than this, I'd like to know the grammatical rule, if any.
    – TheDon
    Dec 4, 2019 at 12:50
  • I would say you do not require 'the' after 'difference'. The difference between old and new schemes lies in ... 'The' difference is that which is being identified. See Peter Masters : 'null' and 'zero' articles.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 5, 2019 at 8:47

4 Answers 4

1

All are variations of parallelism, with two distinct wrinkles:

  • Whether the determiner or article must be repeated or not
  • Whether the head noun is singular or plural

All four constructions are valid, but produce slight differences in emphasis.


The difference between the old and new scheme lies in...

The difference between the old and the new scheme lies in...

In the first example, the is a determiner modifying "old and new scheme." Readers will generally understand that it breaks down into "the old scheme and the new scheme." The second example repeats the determiner and further emphasizes it. Generally, readers will still understand "the old scheme and the new scheme." In this case, the difference is slight because no other modifiers are interrupted when the determiner repeats. Fiction editor Beth Hill, in a post on this subject at The Editor's Blog, shows how repeating the determiner can mark a further difference between two items:

The flat footballs and soccer balls had been stored in the basement for a long time. (Both footballs and soccer balls are flat.)

The flat footballs and the stained soccer balls had been stored in the basement for a long time. (Only the footballs are flat—the soccer balls are stained but not flat, at least not that we know of.)

The flat footballs and the soccer balls had been stored in the basement for a long time. (We have no clues about the condition of the soccer balls. From this wording—with just the addition of the article the—we can’t assume that they’re flat.)

Repeating the is a clue that other premodifiers like "flat" may only pertain to the first noun. In your case, that is not relevant since the only premodifiers for "scheme" are already distinguished by "and."


The difference between the old and new scheme lies in...

The difference between the old and new schemes lies in...

Both work, but with some caveats.

Plural signals that there are two or more schemes, at least one is old, and at least one is new. It does not limit the potential number - there could be two old and three new schemes. If the existence of only two schemes is evident from context (you've only been discussing two schemes so far in your text), it should provide no confusion.

Singular is acceptable because readers will understand that the two adjectives are mutually exclusive, such that it is not one scheme that is both old and new, but two: the old scheme and the new scheme.

Take note: if the adjectives could both describe the same noun, this might be confusing:

The difference between the hot and wet car lies in ...

Some readers might expect "the hot and wet car" to be followed by a second item, like "the cold and dry car," since technically a single car could be both hot and wet. In this case, adding the article avoids the issue ("the hot and the wet car"), since the duplicated determiner could only pertain to a second car. (As described above, duplicating the determiner helps mark further differences between items.) Confusion can also be avoided when using mutually exclusive adjectives (e.g. user-centric and network-centric).

2

I would say that you do not require the last two articles, as neither is the focus of identification.

What is being identified is 'the' difference :

The difference between old and new schemes lies in ...


It could be argued that this is an example of the zero article, that is to say the absent article regarding 'old' and 'new'. See elsewhere on this site for 'null' and 'zero' articles and for references to Peter Masters.

For example : Should 'one' be considered an article ?

1

Replacing the premodifiers with less esoteric ones (and assuming that that does not affect the analysis too greatly):

0' The difference between the old model and the new model ...

is the undeleted (part-) sentence, obviously correct for a single new model.

...........................................................................

Deleting the head noun only, firstly with no adjustment to the singular-form 'model' (deletions usually leave the remaining sentence unaltered):

3' The difference between the old and the new model ... gives 319 000 hits in a Google search

while

4' The difference between the old and the new models ... gives 178 000 hits.

While there is the clear possibility that 4' refers to more than one new model (and perhaps more than one old model), and that this is thus a poorer choice when just two models are being compared, the following from a 2017 Carvoy review shows that the plural-form noun is used in such situations:

Although the 2017 version of the RX350 carried over all the things we got to know and loved about the 2015 version, the main point of difference between the old and the new models is the new safety and technology features integrated into the new model.

This compares with the totally grammatical

4" The difference between the two models ...

So in summary, both forms are used, but there is a reasonable preference for 'model' here.

...........................................................................

Going further,

1' The difference between the old and new model ... gives 269 000 hits

while

2' The difference between the old and new models ... gives 156 000 hits.

So both further-deleted forms also seem to be accepted by many. I'm surprised by the fact that 1' seems preferred to 2', as I feel 1' sounds incongruous.

1

I would argue for one of the following forms, my preference being for the first.

1) ... the old scheme and the new scheme ...

2) ... the old and the new schemes ...

3) ... the two schemes, old and new, ...

This is because the difference is between a scheme and a scheme, not between "an old" and "a new." So this should be emphasized by the sentence structure.

2
  • Thank you for your reply. The first one is certainly unambiguous, but I really want to avoid repetitions (as I use similar sentences a lot). Regarding the second, someone pointed out that it might sound like "... the old schemes and the new schemes..." rather than "... the old scheme and the new scheme...".
    – TheDon
    Dec 4, 2019 at 15:33
  • I would argue that repetition is not bad. Indeed, it's the point of the sentence.
    – puppetsock
    Dec 4, 2019 at 18:06

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