They were not democratic in a modern sense in that slaves, resident noncitizens, and women were excluded from political life. (source: A History of Europe)

This sentence reads fine to me, but I am just wondering if a difference in meaning will be made with the insertion of the definite article before "political life".

They were not democratic in a modern sense in that slaves, resident noncitizens, and women were excluded from the political life.

It seems in the context "political life" is a clear and specific entity. Does it make more sense to include the article?

  • 2
    Most people would drop the article. To add it is not wrong, but to do so would place a slight yet somewhat emotional emphasis on "political life." It's a bit difficult to explain what that means, other than to say that it assumes the reader/listener will have an intimate knowledge of what is right and wrong with that kind of life.
    – Robusto
    Sep 13, 2018 at 20:47

2 Answers 2



Good question; indeed, both appear correct, and from this quote alone it may be rather difficult to ascertain the proper answer (although many may say instinctively that dropping the article is best). I believe the answer, though, lies in the context built prior to the quote itself, and relies on your insight as to a "specific entity."

If the text explains explicitly "political life" prior to this statement, such as imparting to the reader both tasks and importance of involvement, then it could be assumed that "political life" is now specific enough to both reader and writer to be considered a definite reference, and thus "the" would be appropriate. However, if "political life" is discussed in a more abstract sense, leaning towards expressing its complexity through broad statements (or even just assumed to be understood in the piece), it would be best to drop "the" as the idea of "political life" is now an indefinite reference.

I would bet that in this case, as test appears to be a broad history book, that "political life" acts as more of a broad term covering many facets of societies throughout the ages, thus falls in the latter category of an indefinite reference, and is best without using "the."

To read more on definite/indefinite references, I found a great resource from CUNY School of Law here.

Hope this helps!


Both of your sentences are grammatically correct. Adding "the" in the second sentence gives "political life" the sense that it is a definite thing (similar for everyone), and, building on Robusto's comment, invokes in the reader their own background knowledge of it.

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