Let's say we have a set of four balls called: the red ball, the blue ball, the green ball, the yellow ball. Each ball can be either made of wood or made of iron.

If I want to say that the first three of them are made of wood, which form of the following sentence should I use?

The red, the blue and the green [ball/balls] [is/are] made of wood.

Also, did I use the article "the" correctly?

The example is a little bit abstract, but it comes from a far more abstract sentence. I am writing a thesis about a phenomenon that can be described by several models, of which some possess a common property.

This question is similar to that one, but I use "and" instead of "or" which may potentially affect the answer.

  • There is no need to repeat the article: The red, blue and green balls are made of wood.
    – Lambie
    Mar 3 at 17:59
  • @Lambie What if someone thought you were describing multiple balls but each ball has all the colors of red, blue, and green? ("The red, blue, and green ball" -> "the red, blue, and green balls.") Repeating the article helps disambiguate from that case. Mar 3 at 18:55
  • @TaliesinMerlin Then, I would use "Red, blue and green balls" are made of wood. I would not repeat the the. That is what you see on math sites. They use the plural.
    – Lambie
    Mar 6 at 16:58

2 Answers 2


The red, the blue and the green balls are made of wood.

Since every ball possesses the same property, there should be no problem in collectively referring to them as balls which have a certain property.

  • Note that although a rarer possibility, 'the red, green and blue balls' may be interpreted as balls simultaneously having red-blue-green colours on them, and not the 3 separate entities of 'the red, the green and the blue balls'. One such example is 'the chairman and convenor initiated the panel discussion', where the same person is acting as both. Hence, repetition of the article 'the' is important.
    – BeBlunt
    Mar 3 at 18:04
  • Thank you! But I am wondering whether it is not ambiguous to say "balls". Doesn't it imply that there are several balls in each colour?
    – mdi
    Mar 3 at 19:12
  • 1
    No. The colors are separately ambiguous, and that can't be changed without additional description. Are you being paid by the word? Is it important not to be ambiguous? If so, don't write anything, because every English sentence is multiply ambiguous in writing; it's only in speech that we can be unambiguous, and that's hard enough. Mar 3 at 19:55
  • 1
    @JohnLawler: if I understand your statement correctly, in your opinion "balls are" is the correct form and I shouldn't worry about a possible ambiguity since the context excludes it, am I right?
    – mdi
    Mar 3 at 20:28
  • Yes, that's my opinion, but my opinion is also that number agreement is a disappearing feature in English, and doesn't deserve much attention. Syntax, not morphology, is what's necessary in English. Mar 3 at 22:01

If the reader has already been made aware that the set contains 4 balls, each one a different color, then there is no ambiguity with using balls plural or dropping the extra articles:

The red, blue, and green balls are made of wood.

But if the reader is unaware or you’re extra worried:

The red ball, the blue ball, and the green ball are made of wood.

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