I have difficulty wrapping my head around the use of the definite article the just before peace, in its first appearance, in the last in the following sentences.

Noisy children skateboarding on the streets. Couples arguing in their homes. People gathered on the sidewalk, gossiping for long hours. Some people would describe these activities as noise pollution. A new website in Japan has put perpetrators on a map, spurring debate about those who disturb the peace.

This is the very first sentences of a news article, so there is no possibility that peace or any other related word has showed up beforehand.

Theoretically, the peace is supposed to mean the quiet and calm that would exist if there were no such noise pollution as mentioned in the sentence right before.

Nonetheless, the use of the in front of peace seems strange to me, compared with the sentence where peace stands alone with no definite article at all. I cannot comprehend the rationale behind the use of the here.

I know the definite article can be used when the noun is implied in or connected with something else that appears beforehand. (For example: I wanted to buy a new coat. But the sleeves were too long.) But I have no idea whether such implied usage applies to the use of the before peace here.

Which is more natural for native speakers with or without the in this particular case? Could you provide any reasoning or explanation?

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    The collocation a disturbance of the peace goes back at least 400 years in English. But it's really just a "frozen form" usage, that probably won't tell you anything about how English works today (apart from reminding us of the fact that sometimes we hang on to constructions that no longer reflect normal syntax - especially in the context of legal terminology). Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 13:15
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    From the full OED, Clerk of the Peace an officer who prepares indictments and keeps a record of proceedings at sessions of the peace. First citation 1689. Someone else can find out what "sessions of the peace" were. Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 13:18
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    Here, the peace in disturb the peace is an idiomatic phrase, kind of like the sidewalk in gathered on the sidewalk. We haven't specified which sidewalk we're talking about here, either. But for most nouns, we couldn't use the; for example, we wouldn't say couples arguing in the house without having specified which house. Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 13:51
  • I first thought "disturb the peace" was not an idiomatic expression because it makes sense literally. But thanks to the insightful suggestions, I now understand the phrase as idiomatic and thus the use of "the." Thank you so much.
    – user48754
    Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 14:04
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    Note that 'idiomatic' means 'regularly used and accepted by native speakers' in its default sense, not 'of the nature of, or being, an idiom' where an 'idiom' is a fixed phrase with unusual use of a word sense, unusual grammar, or both. Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 15:31

3 Answers 3


The peace is a variant of the King's peace and that is indeed something definite: the peace (i.e. general orderliness) that normally prevails in the particular society under discussion, and is maintained (ultimately) by its king (somebody definite). That peace is something different from the peace that may prevail in another country, under a different sovereign. If one wants to understand the role of the in the generalised version of the phrase (the peace), one should think of it as, analogously, standing for the general orderliness that characterises the particular, politically organised, society that is under discsussion.

  • Since 'sour the atmosphere' is also idiomatic, and there is no corresponding 'the King's atmosphere', this needs justifying. Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 18:21

The peace here is used in broadly the same way as one would talk of "the civil settlement" or "the social order".

Legally, one also historically encounters the notion of the King's peace, and of a disturbance or breach of it. Again, disturbing the King's peace doesn't necessarily mean causing a literal disturbance to the King personally, but disturbing the condition of peacefulness that his rule and authority (and system of justice) has brought to a place.

In the context it's used in the quotation in the question, to describe noise pollution, the usage is hyperbolic. One does not disturb "the peace" merely by emitting noise, there must be disorder, upset, or commotion of a kind that would cause a person to fear violence or property damage. The legal term for mere noise pollution would be "causing public nuisance".

A similar but more appropriate phrasing in the context of the quotation, would be to refer to "disturbing the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood", with "peace and quiet" being an idiom that means freedom from bother or noise of a general kind.


Noise pollution may be an annoying but insufficient reason to involve the Police/Authorities. On the other hand, the term ‘Disturbance of the Peace’ covers the wording for an actual offence which does involve the Police (UK)

Disturbing the peace” (also known as Breach of the Peace) is an offence, part of disorderly conduct crimes or public order offences for which penalties and imprisonment are issued. https://www.defencesolicitorslondon.co.uk/disturbing-the-peace-solicitors-london

The information given has the word ‘perpetrator’ and the term ‘disturb the peace,’ probably, to give a quasi-official/authoratitive impression to the reader. This may in turn cause the potential ‘perpetrators’ to be more considerate.

For instance. It could have read, more informally:

  • A new website in Japan has put noisy troublemakers on a map, spurring debate about those who cause the disturbance.

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