"Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the near-surface air and the oceans."

I understand that the above sentence is the definition of global warming, so the nouns in this sentence such as (the) increase, (the) ... temperature, (the) ... air, and the oceans come with this definite article. However, some of my friends argued that this is a general statement. So, those nouns should not be used with 'the'.

Could you please explain? Thank you.

  • 2
    There's no exception for not using definite articles in general statements. Your friends are probably thinking about the fact that we don't use definite articles when talking about nouns that refer to all things of some kind, like "foxes are red" and "apples have seeds, but bananas don't". Commented Sep 1, 2021 at 16:03

2 Answers 2


There's a 'backwards particularising' here. Take the phrase 'the increase'. What increase? It's specified as 'that increase in the average temperature of ...' (and in fact, 'that' could be used instead of 'the' here, but would be a rarefied usage). We say 'the Bay of Bengal', 'the crack of dawn', 'the Lord of the Rings', 'the man in the Moon', 'the man who shot Liberty Valance'. The specifier is the prepositional phrase (etc) postmodifying the head noun.

Similarly, What (or actually, what's) average temperature? Again, this is soon specified.

The final two definite articles are obviously in parallel. One could omit these (omitting just the second would imply/emphasise that the near-surface air and oceans formed a cohesive system ... not actually incorrect, and omitting the first perhaps hints too strongly at disparate entities), but 'the oceans' (and especially 'the Seven Seas') hint at a human ownership, and you'll often see the article with 'oceans' (and always with 'Seven Seas'). 'The oceans' also more strongly indicates all oceans.

  • Thank you very much. I am still a bit confused. For example, 'The oceans' indicates all oceans. Does this mean specification? But all oceans actually take general meaning? Commented Sep 1, 2021 at 16:20
  • 'The oceans' means (unless a subset has been mentioned) all Earth's oceans (and possibly connected seas) in precise usage. 'Drake sailed across the oceans' obviously uses language more loosely. But in both cases, 'the' is used to show complete or partial specification. I don't understand your final sentence, I'm afraid. Commented Sep 1, 2021 at 16:30
  • Sorry, I mean 'all oceans' is supposed to mean oceans in general. I understand that an indefinite article or a plural form should be used when we are talking about something in general. This article thing is quite confusing for EFL learners :( Commented Sep 1, 2021 at 16:43
  • Collins have written a 100+ page monograph on them, and it's far from complete. Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 18:48

the average temperature of the near-surface air and the oceans.

Firstly: it is a very specific average temperature. It is not "any" average temperature - it is a defined average temperature.

A/an = an example of a/an , so it cannot be an average temperature - there are no more "average temperatures of the near-surface air and the oceans".

Temperature is a singular countable noun: In normal use as subjects and objects, all singular countable nouns require a determiner.

The choice must therefore be "the".

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