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  1. The best time to travel is in the autumn.
  2. The best time to travel is in autumn.

Which sentence is correct?

marked as duplicate by ColleenV Aug 21 '18 at 17:21

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This is a great question!

QUICK ANSWER

Although both phrases are technically correct in the example you have given, the second is preferable. Native speakers in the UK, US and Australia generally exclude the "the". For instance, "the best time to travel is in autumn" would be more common, especially among educated speakers.

Therefore, if you are learning English and would prefer a simple rule, your best option would be to exclude the "the" in front of a season name.

EXPLANATION

In general, the difference between including and excluding the article is mainly one of poetic effect, and that will depend on the specific examples.

Sometimes the inclusion of "a" or "the" in front of a season will add emphasis and make the sentence sound more interesting. However, it takes years of reading good literature and poetry to sense the difference.

Therefore, the safest option - to ensure that your sentences always sound correct - is to exclude the article.

CORRECT EXAMPLES

  • Autumn is always very pretty in Cambridge.
  • Autumn was over; winter had begun to settle on the land.
  • Autumn was over; a grey winter had begun to settle on the land.
  • Financial markets are often volatile during winter.
  • Spring was in the air, and the scent of apple blossom filled the air.
  • I love Paris in spring.
  • Spring is my favourite month.
  • We're planning to visit Italy in summer.
  • We're planning to spend the summer in Italy.
  • We're planning to spend summer in Italy.
  • I'll be leaving NY in the summer.

Note # - The words "the" and "a" are called "articles".

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    I believe your conclusion is somewhat in error, and your mixed examples are making a hasty generalization. When used after a preposition, the is more common than you make it out to be. It's not at all unusual to hear in the spring. On the other hand, you're right that starting a sentence with the spring isn't idiomatic. Unless spring is used to qualify something else: The spring season. In this example, you definitely do want to include the article. So, you need to be more precise in your answer. – Jason Bassford Aug 21 '18 at 14:20
  • @JasonBassford - I agree 100% that my answer can be improved upon - not least because the issue is complex! My main aim was to provide a rule of thumb that would allow a non-native speaker to confidently refer to seasons without risk of error in the vast majority of cases. I think I'm right that exclusion of an article will almost never be wrong (even though inclusion will often also be right). But would love to see a better and more complete answer! :) – TechnoCat Aug 25 '18 at 2:35
  • Looking beyond the above practical aim, I found @Shin's question interesting, because the use of an article seems governed more by poetic factors (e.g. the rhythm of a phrase) than by any well-defined rule. Trying to capture those more subtle factors, the original draft of my answer was so long and nuanced that it risked ballooning into a PhD of no practical value. ;) In the end, I trimmed out 90% and left the above, which is hopefully useful if imperfect. Over to you for a better answer! – TechnoCat Aug 25 '18 at 2:53

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