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What is the difference between the two:

  1. I'm stuck behind red tape.
  2. I'm stuck behind the red tape.

Why the definite article is wrong there? I am saying that because google shows it.

  • "stuck behind red tape" : 1700 results.
  • "stuck behind the red tape": 9 results

Context: Consider you want to obtain a licence, but it's a lengthy process. Then, you would say to your friend that the process is very slow and your are behind red tape.

  • It isn't wrong. You cannot use Google searches in that way. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 25 '17 at 10:06
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I'm stuck behind red tape.

This would refer to your being stymied by bureaucracy. Without the article, "red tape" refers to the concept--excessive bureaucratic requirements.

I'm stuck behind the red tape.

With the article, "the red tape" refers to specific red tape. In your sentence, someone who didn't know the context might think you were referring to physical red tape, such as might be used as a cordon.

But it could also refer to a specific bureaucratic nightmare: "The red tape at the license office is brutal." In that context, the identification of the specific bureaucracy would typically be in the same sentence or a preceding one if you use the article.

But you can talk about the concept in a specific case even without the article: "Red tape at the license office is brutal".

In your example, the article wouldn't normally be necessary because the meaning is clear without it (perhaps clearer, because it would be obvious that you were referring to the concept). If you were calling someone who had no idea where you were and you wanted to let them know you were delayed, you could say, "I'm stuck behind red tape at the license office." The article wouldn't typically be used in this context.

  • 2
    A specific bureaucratic nightmare is one valid way to understand "the", but the definite article could also imply "the inevitable red tape", that is, the red tape which everyone has come to expect. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 25 '17 at 10:05

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