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is the word 'the' used correctly in the first sentence. I am not specific in this case. I want to talk about people in general. That's why I think I should leave out the word 'the'. I think if I use the word 'the', it means the people have been mentioned before, which is not the case. But I am not sure. should I Leave the word "the" in the following sentence.

(The) People who want to leave their own societies, for whatever reason, have the right to do so.

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  • Did you see my answer? I am a native speaker, and SovereignSun's answer is wrong. Also, I noticed that you haven't accepted a single answer to any of your 31 questions! Do go through them and accept whichever answers you are satisfied with.
    – user21820
    Nov 14, 2017 at 6:21
  • To user21820, could you please explain to me why you think my answer is wrong? It's quite rude to say that without any proof. Nov 14, 2017 at 6:40
  • @SovereignSun: If you read my answer very carefully, you would have understood, so I didn't see any need to explain explicitly to you. You state "In practice it makes little to no difference one way or the other." and that is false, as the examples I gave show. Factual statements are not rude; it's just the way you take them... I advise you to delete your answer to not mislead other people, since you are not a native speaker.
    – user21820
    Nov 14, 2017 at 6:56
  • @user21820 I read your answer and it basically says the same as mine. General vs Unique. Nov 14, 2017 at 7:00
  • @SovereignSun: I read that part of your answer, but you use terms like "somehow unique" and "specific sub-group" but it is not at all apparent what either of them actually means. I know language is not a precise thing, but your answer is just misleading or at best too vague to help anyone systematically use the definite article in the correct manner. Anyway, if you disagree then let's just leave it; I can't be bothered to argue much about (imprecise) language. And thanks for responding!
    – user21820
    Nov 14, 2017 at 7:06

3 Answers 3

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It does have a different meaning, and hence are not always interchangeable. Since you want to refer to people in general, you are correct that you should not use the definite article. If you use the definite article, you would convey that you are referring to those people who want to leave their own societies as given by the current context. One would need more context to be able to judge whether using the definite article is inappropriate.


To understand the differences better, consider the following:

(1) The animals who are trapped under the snow are unlikely to survive.

(2) Animals who are trapped under the snow are unlikely to survive.

(1) refers to those animals who are trapped under the snow in the current context. For example, (1) can be used if referring to a particular ongoing situation. (1) can also be used in a more general claim, such as:

(1a) In a blizzard, the animals who are trapped under the snow are unlikely to survive.

Note that in (1a) "a blizzard" is an indefinite reference, making (1a) a generic statement.

In contrast, (2) refers to indefinite or generic animals who are trapped under the snow, rather than a particular group. So a news report about a particular recent blizzard would use (1) and not (2), while a documentary that makes a passing remark about animals trapped under snow would use (2) rather than (1).

It may be worth noting that one special feature of a generic statement is that it can be vacuous:

(2a) Animals who are trapped under a hundred meters of snow are really unlikely to survive.

(2a) clearly does not refer to any actual animals who got trapped under that much snow! And this special case also makes it clear how the definite article would make a difference, because it cannot reasonably be used here.

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It's one of those questions about placing a definite article before a noun followed by a defining relative clause.

In practice it makes little to no difference one way or the other. However, when you are referring to a group defined by a relative clause, you don't need the definite article unless that group is somehow unique or is limited by number. Thus, you get a specific (unique) sub-group from a general defined group.

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  • Your edit makes it clear that your explanation is incorrect. In particular, "People who live in small cities and have no money for good education are less educated." is perfectly grammatical. I do appreciate your effort, but frankly it seems you do not really understand the English definite article. You also seem to parse your own example incorrectly; it should be "People who { { live in small cities } and { have no money for good education } } are less educated.", which makes it clear that the extra clause has no relevance to the use of the definite article.
    – user21820
    Nov 14, 2017 at 8:20
  • @user21820 I do understand it perfectly well. It may be hard to explain but the definite article is meant to define something unique or special. That means we shouldn't use the definite article to speak about anything in general. The definite article is also a limiter for a group. And of course the definite article refers to anything previously mentioned. I've retead a lot about the deginite article in order to review my answer and well, we both have a point. Nov 14, 2017 at 17:30
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    That means we shouldn't use the definite article to speak about anything in general. ??????????? Nov 14, 2017 at 18:29
  • @MvLog okay, we may not use. Nov 15, 2017 at 3:56
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More context would be helpful in making the stylistic choice. You should likely use "People who..." instead of "The people who...", but depending on the context, it could sound natural either way.

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