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In 1863 the first underground passenger railway in the world opened in London. It ran for just under seven kilometers and allowed people to avoid terrible ____ (crowd) on the roads above as they travelled to and from work.

I am wondering if crowd or crowds should be filled here. And why?

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I think you would say the following:

to avoid terrible crowds on the roads above

Why? Because plural crowds do not require the definite article, whereas singular crowd does require the definite article. Use the when you assume there is just one of something in that place, even if it has not been mentioned before. See: https://www.ef.edu/english-resources/english-grammar/definite-article/

to avoid the terrible crowd on the roads above

The definite article is optional with plural crowds:

to avoid the terrible crowds on the roads above

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    This is a good explanation for how to work out the correct answer if this were a question in a test. A more complelling explanation relating to the meaning is that it's difficult to imagine a single crowd seven kilometres long.. one would be more likely to find bunches of people with gaps in between. crowds, probably with the definite article, is term that best describes this situation.
    – JavaLatte
    Jan 16 '18 at 8:19
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    I agree, the terrible crowds is probably the best option, but the others are OK, too. "Crowd" is a suitably vague term. "Crowds" and "crowd" can mean the same thing.
    – Ringo
    Jan 16 '18 at 8:36
  • @JavaLatte shouldn't it be ... is the term that best described ... ? Sorry, but I just want to be clear about it. Thanks.
    – dan
    Jan 16 '18 at 14:00
  • @dan, oops: my mistake. There should be definite article where you have indicated.
    – JavaLatte
    Jan 16 '18 at 14:42

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