This school has quite a lot of students although I don't know exactly the number of the students.

I would like to know the expression "the number of the" in the above sentence I created is correct. I think this is correct, but I could not find such usage a lot on the Internet.


Using "the number of the students" is not appropriate in this context, because it changes the way "number" is interpreted. Consider the following three ways in which numbering is used in language:

  1. Cardinal: a quantity. e.g. I have 14 brothers
  2. Ordinal: a position or rank. e.g. I am 14th in line to ride Splash Mountain
  3. Nominal: a label. e.g. Johan Cruyff wore the number "14" Jersey for the Netherlands

In your sentence, the intention is almost certainly to use "number" in the first, Cardinal sense. However, if the word "the" is placed before "students", then it switches things to the third, Nominal sense. It's as if the students, as a group, had been given a number as an identifier.

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  • If so, should a definite-article be added to "school" not to "students" as follows?: I don't know exactly the number of students in the school. – rama9 Aug 1 '19 at 5:03
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    That would be clumsy if you also keep "This school" at the beginning. How about, "This school has quite a lot of students, although I don't know exactly the number." or "This school has quite a lot of students, but I don't know precisely how many."? – tkp Aug 1 '19 at 5:16

In this case, you don't use the after the of because

number of students

makes one phrase.

Logically speaking nothing really wrong with "the number of the students," but it's unnecessary because you can take "number of students" as a phrase, and the sentence flows better without the extra the. The concern of interpretation as nominal number is, I believe, matter of the context.

Here is another example:

~ due to a delay in (the) approval

I was once corrected it to without 'the.' But according to Ngram, both with or without the is used: enter image description here It took me a while how it works without the here when the approval is about the topic of (the) discussion (here, too, you definitely prefer without the in front of discussion).

I came to this conclusion that it works without the when it can be taken as a phrase (, though it's difficult for non-native speakers like me to know when it's taken as a phrase ).

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In a word: No

You would not use "the" in this sentence since you are referring to a an unspecific group of students.

The word "the" is used when referring to something specific. So a possibly correct usage could be "the number of the apartment" when talking about the address number of a specific apartment. However this usage is uncommon and you would most likely want to use "the apartment's number" instead.

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  • 1
    It's not referring to an unspecific group of students at all. The sentence has clearly identified the specific group of students at this school. – Jason Bassford Aug 1 '19 at 4:44

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