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In a scale model in which the stars are ships, the average ship will be over a million miles from its nearest neighbour.

Why the writer not use THE before the adjective nearest?

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We use determiners before nouns, and determiners can be classified in five groups (Source):

  • Articles: a/an, the

  • Demonstratives: this, that, these, those

  • Possessives: my, your, his, her, its, our, their, x’s (possessive ’s)

  • Quantifiers: (a) few, fewer, (a) little, many, much, more, most, some, any, etc.

  • Numbers: one, two, three, etc.

I the sentence you quoted, the author wants to describe the vicinity of a ship and they chose a possessive determiner. Although I don't know what the writer tries to convey by "the average ship", perhaps average in size, he or she could simply say:

The distance between one (average?) ship to the other will be more than a million miles.


My side note: Personally, I haven't faced a sentence which had two determiners before a noun. So, apart from the fact that it could sound odd, I would think that is not grammatical to have two determiners in a row.However, I am not 100 percent sure myself.

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    You can have two determiners in a row in at least some cases, such as "The Nine Billion Names of God". I feel like there are probably some rules about when you can and can't, but numbers are definitely one case where you can have.
    – stangdon
    May 14, 2017 at 19:40
  • @stangdon thanks for pointing it out. I will edit this answer to add more details on this.
    – Cardinal
    May 14, 2017 at 20:23
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    In modern English, articles, demonstratives, and possessives are mutually exclusive: you cannot have two of them in the same noun phrase.
    – Colin Fine
    May 14, 2017 at 20:49

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