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I feel it is very confusing when I see sentences such as this one in papers published in prestigious scientific journals (written by native speakers):

35S:ZPR2-GFP plants often showed termination of meristem activity and the formation of a pin-like structure.

Someone please tell me why there is no 'the' before 'termination' while there is a 'the' before 'formation'?

Here are two more similar sentences that I noticed in another paper:

  1. Formation of mature GCs in rice requires the stomatal maturation bHLH OsFAMA.
  2. Here, we identify a locus responsible for the formation of SCs in Brachypodium.

I really don't know why the definite article 'the' only appears in the second sentence (before 'formation') but not in the first one (at the beginning).

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    Don't worry about it. You could remove each "the" and the sentences' meanings would not change. I would accept any of those sentences in scientific editing.
    – Anton
    Nov 27, 2020 at 22:40
  • Thank you Anton! But why the original authors (some really big scientists) wrote like this?
    – Zheng Li
    Nov 27, 2020 at 22:41
  • Termination and formation are uncountable nouns. As such they do not require a determiner. As well as being a determiner, "the" is a demonstrative adjective that is related to "that". "The", like that, specifies. However uncountable nouns can be specific (specified) or general. In your examples, those without "the" are of (i) the general type of or (ii) an example of termination/formation that is taking place. In 2. *the formation directs the reader's attention to a specific instance.
    – Greybeard
    Nov 27, 2020 at 22:51
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    Why? Because language is variable and not always fixed by rules. The insertion of "the" may act as a slight suggestion of "the process of" but such a thought adds nothing to the statements. The is a "definite article" that usually refers to a specific thing. There is no clear following specific in your sentences. If I had written "Because language is variable and not always fixed by the rules", it would have been desirable first to say what rules I was thinking about. I did not, so I only wrote "...by rules", which is a general statement and not one about some specific rules.
    – Anton
    Nov 27, 2020 at 22:52
  • @Greybeard Greybeard, your answer is helpful to me, thanks. However, I am not really convinced by your first two sentences. We see quite often that people say 'the history of the company', so in theory we can also omit 'the' here? –
    – Zheng Li
    Nov 27, 2020 at 23:11

1 Answer 1

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My guess is that it first came from how scientists wrote their notes of ongoing experiments. Most likely they used a telegraphic notation, as these were just lab notes, where certain articles just disappeared; and this eventually seeped into scientific language.

edit

@Zheng Li: Why not, people aren't always consistent about how they wrote. Take the above, I almost wrote 'scientific language proper'; and this is not correct English, but it is used in scientific English. It's possible to think of scientific English as an argot smuggled into proper English.

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  • Hmm... not really sure about this. Like the first sentence, if so, the second 'the' should not appear there, right?
    – Zheng Li
    Nov 27, 2020 at 23:04
  • I think people use "the" for the thing they're interested in, and briefer telegraphic style for less important stuff.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 18, 2022 at 22:20

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