In a question asked here, one of the answers said that, in the sentence: "Care about thr syntax, (the) semantics, and (the) typos,"

"the inclusion or exclusion of the article is irrelevant for anything other than style because of something called "suspension [by which, I think, he meant parallelism]," in which syntactic elements of an initial item can be assumed to apply to subsequent items. (In other words, the is used in front of the first item, so it can be assumed to apply to all items—whether or not it's actually present.)"

So I asked whether in this sentence: "Care about syntax, the semantics and typos," the definite article "the" only applies to "semantics" or to "typos" too. The person replied that I should ask a new question regarding this, so here I am!

I want to know whether, in general, the articles (definite or indefinite) which precede a noun other than the first noun in a compound noun modify all the constituent nouns following it or just the adjacent one.

I wasn't able to find any discussion on this matter on the Web, but I hope I can find it here.

  • 2
    It doesn't really make sense to talk about determiners modifying a noun. In modern descriptive grammar, articles determine but do not modify (A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, p.64, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, p.24, etc.).
    – user230
    May 30, 2018 at 0:12

1 Answer 1


Short answer

No, there is a "the" (implicit or explicit) before each noun.

Where does the "the" apply?

Here, "semantics and typos" is not a binary noun set. It is part of a tertiary one: "syntax, semantics, and typos". So, after the insertion of an Oxford comma for clarity, the explicit "the" in "syntax, the semantics, and typos" cannot logically apply to typos because it cannot apply to syntax, either. The explicit "the" applies only to "semantics".

How does context affect things?

The presence of even one "the" here implies that the context has to be a given piece of writing. (the semantics -> which semantics? -> semantics of a given piece of writing)

Therefore, there is an implicit "the" before "syntax" and "typos", too, because of that context:

Care about (the) syntax (of the piece), the semantics (of the piece), and (the) typos (of the piece).

Why? Because the following wouldn't make much sense:

Care about syntax (in general), the semantics (of the piece), and typos (in general).

So, it's a style thing

Given that it's understood that there's a "the" before each verb, and at least one explicit "the" is necessary to create a context, it's then just a matter of style as where to put the "the"s.

  • If the oxford comma weren't present, would the article apply to "typos" too, then? And, can you cite a reference supporting your answer? May 23, 2018 at 19:38
  • This answer was a chain of reasoning based on what I understand about how "the" functions, so I don't have a reference for this. As such I am open to counterarguments :) As far as the presence/absence of the Oxford comma, it's still a set of three, and the function of "the" remains unchanged, based on my current reasoning. May 23, 2018 at 21:47
  • Forgive the poor example I could think of, I meant my question in the general sense. So, suppose a sentence makes sense so that we can talk about all of the noun-constutuents in both 'with-article' and 'without-article' senses, would the "the" then apply to all of the following nouns or only to the adjacent one? May 23, 2018 at 22:34
  • No worries, I think your example was a good one! In a general sense, based on what I understand, the "the" only applies to all of the following nouns only if it is explicitly expressed before the first noun in the list. In other words, "the" can be thought of being applied to the group of items, not each item individually. Otherwise, if a "the" is present on any other noun, then each noun in the set gets its own "the", whether explicit or implicit. May 23, 2018 at 22:44
  • So, you are saying that it wouldn't be considered a mistake -- I don't know what category it will fall into, if it is --on the part of the speaker instead? May 23, 2018 at 23:07

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