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In one of my books it says that you omit the definite article in cases when you talk about things in general. Is there a sentence in which I could use 20s or 60s as a time period of some years without the?

This is an example with a definite article (I think):

We got through the 20s as ...

Does this mean that we got through the 20's of the current/last century (1920s in this case)?

Could there be something like this?

We love 20s.

Does this mean that we love the 20s of any century in general?

Or is perhaps "20s" without an article possible in some other context?

I'm a bit confused about what is a general thing and what is a unique thing which is with the as well, at least in my books. For example:

Let's meet at the cinema.

...meaning a unique cinema in a city.

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    The 20s was a definite decade (to the extent that everyone knows we are referring to the 1920s and not the 1820s or 1720s etc), hence we always refer to the 20s with a definite article. – Tom B Nov 16 '16 at 20:09
  • You can say "I love 60's music." (Note the possessive form.) – Mick Nov 16 '16 at 20:14
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I suppose if you wanted to say something about the "20s decade" of any century, you could say, "I love 20s" or "20s are periods of change" or whatever. But it's such an unlikely thing to say, I'd be surprised if you could find an example.

But to take a more likely analogy, suppose you were talking about the basement of a building. If you were talking about the basement of one particular building, you might say, "I clean the basement." You use "the" because you are talking about one particular basement. But if you wanted to talk about the basement of any building, you could say, "I clean basements." Now there's no article because we are talking about basements in general and not one particular basement.

As "the 20s" would normally be understood to mean "the 1920s", we are talking about one particular period of time, so you use the singular and the definite article. (I suppose if someone in 1840 talked about "the 20s", he presumably meant "the 1820s", and if 30 years from now people talk about "the 20s", they'll probably mean "the 2020s", unless the context makes clear that you're talking about some other century.)

Note that regardless of whether you are talking about a specific thing or a general thing, if you use the singular, you need an article, a possessive, the number "one", or one of a few other special pronouns. Like if we are searching for your lost dog, I might say, "I see the dog" or "I see your dog." If we are wandering about and see an unknown dog, I would say, "I see a dog." It would never be correct to say, "I see dog." (Well, you could say "I see Dog" if you are talking about Dog the Bounty Hunter, a person named "Dog". But then it's a proper noun.)

As Mick notes in his comment, you could use "20s" without an article if you were using it as an adjective rather than a noun, and the noun in question does not call for an article. Which would usually mean that it is either plural or uncountable. "I like 20s music" (uncountable) or "There were several 20s cars in the antique car show" (plural).

  • Is it 20's or 20s as an adjective (Mick in comments had an extra apostrophe there)? Thank you it really helped to make things more clear. – Vico Lemp Nov 16 '16 at 21:31
  • Both are correct. I don't have statistics, but I'd guess it's more common to use the apostrophe, "20's". – Jay Nov 17 '16 at 6:56

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