The following first sentence comes from Wikipedia, which 'the' is not used before 'traffic', while the second one comes from BBC, which has 'the' before 'traffic'. I wonder if both usages are correct or not? If yes, is there a difference between these two sentences with and without 'the'? If no, which one is correct ?

  1. For cycling in particular, collisions at intersections (defined broadly as "not only the junction of two roadways, but also points where driveways, sidewalks, or paths meet a roadway, or where sidewalks or paths meet a driveway") while traveling in the wrong direction against traffic has been determined to be over three times more likely for wrong-way cyclists.

  2. The van was then spotted joining the M4 at junction 15 (Swindon east), driving against the traffic towards London on the westbound carriageway.

  • Both versions are grammatical. Because the second one is specific (we have an actual van facing oncoming traffic), the article would normally be present - it's not just any traffic, it's the traffic going that way down the M4. In the first one it really could be any traffic, because it's a general statement - in such constructions it's not uncommon to omit the article because no particular traffic is being singled out for reference. Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 3:30
  • I will simply cite the American Automobile Association's riding the wrong way against traffic to show that not all Americans are so wedded to use of the article in all contexts. Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 3:49
  • @FumbleFingers: I disagree; I would have used "driving against traffic", not "driving against the traffic", in the BBC example. To me the BBC example, as worded, sounds like "driving against {the traffic towards London}", but it's actually "driving {against the traffic} {towards London}". (I imagine this is a U.S./U.K. difference. I'm American.)
    – ruakh
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 3:51
  • @FumbleFingers: (To be clear, your last comment is based on a misunderstanding of my now-deleted comment.)
    – ruakh
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 3:52
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: Re: US/UK difference: You may well be right. I can remember several times that I've encountered some unfamiliar usage in a British source, and thought to myself, "Weird, I've never heard that before! Must be a U.K. thing . . .", only to start encountering it in everyday conversations, the local newspaper, etc., and realize that it must have been there all along without my noticing.
    – ruakh
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 0:48

1 Answer 1


If you are talking about traffic in general, as a common scenario, not specific to any road or incidence, then you can ommit "the". Example: "You often spot some people going against traffic on the streets near schools, which is very dangerous"

But when you are talking about a particular situation where the story happened and you want to mention traffic on some road, then use "the" to elaborate the incidence ("The" traffic which you talk about Example: "Police patrol saw the guy when they were passing by George Street. He was seen going against the traffic."

  • Seems right to me. You can (but usually don't have to) omit "the" if you've no specific traffic flow in mind, but not otherwise. Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 17:55

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