Tell me please why "the" was used in the following sentense.

The historians do not like that I don't use historical terms.

I am confused because the speaker had not mentioned any specific historians before, could he use it in the sense of all like when we are talking about nationalities, for example the French, the Russions, the Dutch?

  • Please do not rely so heavily on this "previous mention" rule. It is meant as a kind of simple rule-of-thumb for absolute beginners, to help them understand one of the ways the definite article is used.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 15:27
  • How do you know they didn't mention historians before? (If you are referencing something specific, supply a link.) Here is a possible context where historians are not specifically mentioned before, but the use of the article still makes sense: I'm going to college and taking several history classes. The historians do not like that I don't use historical terms. Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 15:51

2 Answers 2


From wikipedia: "The definite article is used to refer to a particular member of a group or class. It may be something that the speaker has already mentioned or it may be something uniquely specified."

For example: "The Queen of England hosted a reception." Here, I have not previously mentioned any particular queen of England, but I can still use the definite article because the currently reigning Queen of England is unique and almost any listener would already know who she is.

It is in this sense of "something uniquely specified" that the definite article can be used with an entire category of something. As you say, it can be used with nationalities: "The Germans reunified in 1989." Here the thing that is being uniquely identified is the set of all German citizens - I don't have to "previously mention" the existence of the set of all German citizens because the listener and I already know what the set of all German citizens is.

This isn't limited to just people. Any time you use a noun that refers to a well-known unique object or a well-defined complete classification of something, you can use the definite article:

Protect yourself from the sun. [The sun is unique.]

The stock markets fell overnight. [Which stock markets? All stock markets.]

The dinosaurs became extinct millions of years ago. [Which dinosaurs? All of them.]

The mercury in a thermometer expands with rising temperature. [Which mercury? Any mercury that's in any thermometer.]

The historians do not like that I don't use historical terms. [Which historians? Any historian who reads my writing.]


This use of the definite article with the plural is a way of referring to the entire class, especially but not necessarily when the intent is to tar the entire class with a broad brush, or to refer to the entire class in terms of its inevitability or unavoidability. A thing that everyone knows about, such as a cultural institution, doesn't need to be mentioned previously.

He doesn't read the newspapers. He gets his news from TV.

The playwright had a "damn the reviews" attitude.

The movie studios wouldn't touch the topic with a ten-foot pole.

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