I had a conversation on a topic here that I am interested in a lot but have not get a response yet to my question about it, so I have decided to address the question to the community on this site for assistance. It concerns matters when a definite article precedes a plural noun modified by 'of' noun phrase, with my impression being that a set of the things specified by a definite article invokes the meaning 'all of them' regarding the things being specified. Why I think perhaps it should be so, I would specify on the following example.

Consider the phrase the mountains of Austria, indicating the mountains that are in Austria not elsewhere, which thus are specified. It seems to me that here the connotation of all mountains (of Austria) is present in the sense of all of them that are in Austria (or at least in the sense of each of them); for otherwise, it would mean that some of them are excluded from the list of the mountains of Austria, seeming illogical.

Does such 'logic' and meaning, even at a level of connotation, are present in the phrase and in this sort of phrases generally?

I do understand that perhaps this question can be tagged a 'duplicate', but I would like, in that case, to read comments about the proposed logic-- why, for example, it could be that it does not matter at all in the phrase concerned.

  • 1
    If you have some awareness that the question could be a duplicate, please link to a couple of the ones you've read so you can say why you're still unsure. It may legitimately be a new question, but it's hard to tell without reference. In any case, yes, "the mountains of Austria" would be assumed to refer to "all the mountains of Austria". Aug 5, 2017 at 15:50
  • @ Luke Sawczak Perhaps it may be count as a duplicate of this post ell.stackexchange.com/questions/106799/… But I would emphasize the proposed logic as being of a primary interest to this post.
    – Giorgi
    Aug 5, 2017 at 16:06

2 Answers 2


It concerns matters when a definite article precedes a plural noun modified by 'of' noun phrase, with my impression being that a set of the things specified by a definite article invokes the meaning 'all of them'.

No. The specification is not done by the definite article - it is done by other means. In your example "of Austria" specifies the mountains and that allows the use of "the".

We also say "The mountains in Austria" and "The mountains near Austria" and "The mountains beyond Austria", etc. It is the prepositional phrase (not just "of" phrases) that specify.

If you approach a stranger and say "The policeman is fat", the stranger will reply "Which policeman?" because you have not specified the policeman you are referring to.

For a noun to be qualified by "the", it must be

(i) already known to the listener "The moon is bright" (everyone is aware of the moon) so it can take "the" or

(ii) If you both have been looking at the same car, and thus both aware of the car, "The car is in good condition."

(ii) specified: "The policeman near the shop is fat."

You can specify the noun in several ways:

(i) indicating the noun: A [pointing]:"The policeman is fat."

(ii) specifying the noun with a prepositional phrase: "The policeman with a radio is fat."

(ii) specifying the noun with a relative clause: "The policeman who has a radio is fat."

(ii) specifying the noun with an adjective: "The tall policeman is fat."

The definite article is often but not always appropriate where the noun is defined or specified.

In "The Mountains of Austria" "Mountains" is specified by *of Austria" = those associated with Austria and no other mountains."

This would be also true if the prepositional phrase "of Austria" were replaced with "The Austrian Mountains"

As the noun is plural, it indicates all of the mountains and therefore the "The Mountains of Austria" and that is very specific.

A mountain = one example of a mountain.

Mountains (plural of "a mountain") = several examples of a mountain

The mountain - this can only be used if the listener knows which mountain you are talking about.

The mountains - this can only be used if the listener knows which mountains you are talking about.

  • "The policeman who has a radio is fat" is a correct description of a situation if and only if there is only one policeman around who has a radio and is fat, is not it? Could you specify examples where a noun is specified and the use of the definite article in front of the noun is not appropriate.
    – Giorgi
    Aug 28, 2020 at 11:54
  • 1
    1. Yes. Otherwise you have to add another specification "The policeman with a radio, who is near the car, is fat. 2. "A house with 4 bedrooms is expensive."
    – user81561
    Aug 28, 2020 at 12:40
  • Does the indefinite article in the example suggest that the noun phrase is not sufficient for it to specify the noun in the sense that there are many (more than one) expensive houses with 4 bedrooms?
    – Giorgi
    Aug 30, 2020 at 14:23
  • I have already explained that when I explained what "a/an" meant. "A/An" does not specify - it generalises the noun phrase.
    – user81561
    Aug 30, 2020 at 14:34
  • I didn't ask about the general rule itself, but I was asking why the noun phrase does not specify the noun and thus why just the indefinite article rule is applicable in your example --because there are many (more than one) houses like this?
    – Giorgi
    Sep 1, 2020 at 10:46

Unfortunately your actual question is itself ungrammatical and hard to understand. I think you're asking if you're interpreting the phrase correctly as referring to all mountains in Austria.

If so, then yes, this is the meaning I give the phrase as a native speaker. It refers to all mountains in Austria. The mountains in Austria is a noun phrase, you can consider these four words as standing in for a single noun.

I cannot think of an example where this logic does not hold, I believe it is absolutely correct.

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