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I'm a little confused about the following sentences. Could you please tell me which one(s) is/are correct?

  1. The first and the second chapter are difficult.

  2. The first and the second chapters are difficult.

  3. The first and second chapters are difficult.

  4. The first and second chapter are difficult.

I believe #1 & #3 are correct, while #2 & #4 are incorrect.

But when seeing the answers to the Quora question "Which one is grammatically correct "The first and the second chapter is very difficult" or "The first and second chapters are very difficult"?", I wonder why they say #2 is correct.

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I believe #3 will sound best and most natural to a native speaker. I would use two articles if I wanted to draw attention to some distinction between the chapters. For example:

The first chapter is difficult and the second chapter is difficult and long. In this sentence it would sound awkward to leave out the second "the".

It is not incorrect to use just one "the" as in your version #3, nor is it incorrect to use two. You may use the article twice, but to a native speaker it will sound stilted.

On the other hand, sometimes that is the effect you want. For example, if your neighbor is angry because you are playing loud music late at night, he might want to emphasize the distinct number of times he has asked you to turn down your music:

"I asked you politely the first time and the second time to turn down your music. The third time will not be polite."

But in normal everyday conversation you would just say,

"I asked him politely the first and second time, but the third time I punched him in the jaw."

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It's quite simple. You have to know the rules of parallelism. Number 2 is correct because the article the is also used before the word second.

Example:

The fast and the furious.

Also, you have to use the plural form of the word chapters because you are pertaining to more than one chapter, which are the first and second chapters.

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