Is the correct phrasing "to have a tendency to <do something>" or is it "to have the tendency to <do something>" ?

An example of a sentence I want to use the phrase in is: You have a/the tendency to underestimate the effect that future events have on your opinions.

Google Ngram Viewer suggests that the answer is "to have a tendency to <do something>". But I think that the answer might depend on the context.

  • 1
    Why complicate things? Instead of worrying about whether people have a/the tendency to do something, just say they tend to do it. But I can't think of any particular reason to use the definite article in such contexts unless said tendency is already known to the audience (as a tendency which occurs in other people, and/or at other times in history, for example). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Oct 28 '16 at 13:18
  • It's really confusing we usually say "to have a tendency to do something", but when talk about ability, we say "to have the ability to do something". – Khan Oct 28 '16 at 15:02
  • As written, I would use "a" because people have many tendencies; you are writing about only one of them. – user3169 Oct 28 '16 at 15:42

Normally, "a tendency" is the most natural. But, if you think the tendency you describe is a special phenomenon that you want to imply the listener might already be aware of, using "the" might convey that. Or they might just think you're being a tad unidiomatic. Really, though, it doesn't sound that bad even if they don't pick up the nuance you're aiming for.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.