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I know that 'The' is the definite article, which is used in front of a noun when a specific thing or group of things is referred to as opposed to making general statements.

However some confusion arose when I look at the sentence below:

  1. I will destroy (the?) people who interfere with my plans.

My questions is this: Is the above sentence identifying a particular group of people, and is the definite article needed?

If the sentence is constructed this way :

  1. I will destroy the people who interfered with my plans!

It would make perfect sense why the definite article is required, as the readers would understand from it that there were people who interfered, and the speaker, with anger and frustration, wants to get revenge on those people.

However, in sentence number 1, the speaker didn't refer to people in general (everyone) but 'people that interfere'(specific). Yet the speaker doesn't know who will and who won't get in the way of his/her plans, and neither do the listeners. To add to that, I feel like sentence number 1 sounds better with than without the definite article, but that is disregarding logic and grammar rules (which I couldn't find one to answer my question).

Here is another sentence I looked at:

  1. I like people that are confident.

This sounds very much correct and much better than 'I like the people that are confident.' But isn't 'people that are confident' also definite? What is the logic here? Does a relative clause determine if a noun is definite or indefinite?

Many thanks.

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  • In some contexts, including the definite article in a noun phrase can imply that the thing definitely exists. Thus the implication of Early probes failed to detect the life on Mars is that such life does in fact exist, even though they didn't find it. Without the article it's equally possible they didn't find it because it was never there to be found. – FumbleFingers Aug 10 '16 at 11:45
  • Does that mean I should omit the definite article if the sentence is used to warn people that they shouldn't interfere? As I don't know if there will be those that do. Also, in the sentence 'I like people that are confident', should I say 'I like THE people who are confident' if confident people exist? – JUNCINATOR Aug 10 '16 at 11:58
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If you say "I will destroy people who interfere with my plans!" you are making a general statement about the future.

If you say "I will destroy the people who interfere with my plans!" you're making a more specific statement, but it's still all about the future: that is, the destruction and the interference are both in the future. We don't know who, if any, those people are going to be: they're totally hypothetical at this point. So, the effective meaning is the same as in the first example.

If you say "I will destroy the people who interfered with my plans!" then the destruction is in the future but the interference is now in the past. That means that you're no longer talking about a hypothetical group of people: some specific people have done the interference, and they could be identified and pointed to as being the group of people. So, you're making a more definite statement: you've got what you need to make the destruction actually occur.

So, if 1 & 2 mean the same thing, effectively, is there any difference? I'd say that the definite article adds a bit of emphasis: ie, it makes the threat of destruction seem more real. It feels a bit more like you "mean it". It also makes it seem like you believe that some people will interfere. That's my analysis anyway.

  • Thanks for answering. However I still have doubts in my mind about saying "I will destroy the people who interfere with my plan", as I don't know if the definite particle is needed. Which version would you prefer? – JUNCINATOR Aug 10 '16 at 11:54
  • Like I said, you can use either. The definite article implies that you think that people will interfere. I probably prefer the version without "the" I think. – Max Williams Aug 10 '16 at 12:00
  • Thanks again. I just have one thing I am confused about. In sentence 3, can I say "I like the people who are confident."? Is 'people who are confident' specific or general? Does adding a relative clause cause it to require the article 'The'? – JUNCINATOR Aug 10 '16 at 12:06
  • "I like the people who are confident." would make sense only in a context where some people have been clearly seperated into the "confident" group, so the listener would know that you were talking about that specific group of people. If it's a general statement about liking confident people, then don't use "the". – Max Williams Aug 10 '16 at 12:13
  • if you use the definite article 'the', you are indicating a definite group of people that will be destroyed at some point in the future, i.e. those people that interfered with your plans. – gbra Aug 10 '16 at 16:23

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