3

The data in Tables 1 were assembled from studies in North America...

Fluxes shown in Table 1 are different from Tables 2 and 3 because...

Results of the calculations indicate that ....

These three sentences are from one paragraph from a published research paper. But the first sentence keeps 'the' whereas the second and third choose to neglect 'the'. I wonder why is the case.

  • 3
    It would be much, much better if you included the whole paragraph, instead of little excerpts. – J.R. Oct 5 '19 at 21:34
  • “These three sentences" I don't see three sentences, I see three disjointed and partial sentences. – Mari-Lou A Oct 6 '19 at 1:26
  • And then there's the case of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_The, where I'm not sure if adding or removing a 'the' would be allowed. – Jens Oct 6 '19 at 14:19
  • Always? No. Consider "The brown chicken crossed the road". – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Oct 6 '19 at 16:53
  • Maybe the is omitted from two of the sentences because any subset of the fluxes or results is consistent with the assertion, and thus it need not be about all of the fluxes or results. – Anton Sherwood Oct 6 '19 at 18:20
16

There are some general rules about when a "the" is or is not required.

Plural nouns referring to specific things

In the specific three examples you provided, the inclusion or exclusion of the "the" is largely just a matter of personal preference, or personal style in writing, for two reasons. First, all the nouns are plural. Second, they are all referring to specific examples (e.g. data, fluxes and results in 'Table 1').

Since the "the" is optional where both the above conditions are met, all of the following pairs are acceptable.

Example 1

  • The data points in Table 1 were assembled ...
  • Data points in Table 1 were assembled ...

Example 2

  • Fluxes shown in Table 1 ...
  • The fluxes shown in Table 1 ..

Example 3

  • The results of the calculations indicate ...
  • Results of the calculations indicate ....

Plural nouns referring to general things

By contrast, where the noun is plural AND it refers to a general not a specific thing, then it is conventional to exclude the article. For instance, the following sentence would always be used without the article.

  • Housing prices in the US have ...
  • Inflation rates in coming years will ...
  • Houses of Parliament around the world are ...

Singular nouns need a "the"

If the noun is singular, a "the" is almost always mandatory, because it is referring to a specific thing (which is why the term for the word "the" is "definite article").

For instance, if your examples were modified to have a singular noun, the only correct expressions would be as follows.

  • The data point in cell D24 was obtained ...
  • The flux value of 0.1247 in Table 1 ...
  • The key result of our calculation was ...

You will note that in my reworded version of your example 1, the word "data" has been changed to "data points". The purpose of the change was to avoid the debate about whether the word "data" is a singular or plural noun. Most authors would treat it as a singular, but there is still some debate (see, for instance, this article: https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2010/jul/16/data-plural-singular).

The distinction is important, because if "data" is singular (like the word "datum") then:

(a) it must have a "the" preceding it, and also

(b) it needs a singular verb.

In your first example above, the author has used the verb "were", which is a plural verb. This means that the author is treating "data" as plural noun, in which case the "the" is optional.

But it's way more nuanced & complex ....

The above general rules are just a starting point ....

  • You can't examine the article and lack of article in these related sentences separately. They work together. "The data is Tables 1 and 3" here would not be a style choice. – Lambie Oct 5 '19 at 14:41
  • 1
    @Lambie - Apologies, but could you please clarify what you mean and also include the verb that would follow? The word "data" will always be problematic, because of the ambiguity about whether it is a singular or plural noun, which is what comes AFTER your "The data in Tables 1 and 3" is key. – TechnoCat Oct 5 '19 at 14:56
  • Hi, thank you for your answer, one last thing I would like to ask regarding the rules you mentioned above. Are they general rules or are they only legit when nouns are placed at the beginning of a sentence? – Elizabeth Oct 5 '19 at 15:19
  • 1
    @Elizabeth - Although your question is too broad to allow a complete answer (or at least a quick answer!), I tried adding a few words at the start - e.g. "Even though ... " or "While it may be true that ...", and all the above examples still work without change. :) – TechnoCat Oct 5 '19 at 15:57
  • 1
    @Elizabeth - As a native speaker, the rights & wrongs for me are intuitive rather than learned from a book. I would, however, recommend starting with the two links that were included in the good answer from Ilmari Karonen below, especially the link to the Wikipedia article on the definite article. – TechnoCat Oct 6 '19 at 10:49
6

Not always. A counterexample where omitting the "the" does not make sense is

The day I went to London.

Keeping the "the" in cases where the meaning does not change if omitted is a matter of personal preference for the author.

However "the" is sometimes used to emphasise or denote uniqueness or to distinguish from any other and is often stressed when spoken. As in (assume John Doe is a famous performer) .

The John Doe took to the stage.

not any other John Doe

In a similar vein the build up introductions by comperes often uses

The one and only John Doe!

Bold denotes stress when spoken.

  • Hi thank you for your answer, can I say that the 'the' at the beginning of a sentence can be omitted, when it is not used for emphasis, and there is no change of the meaning of a sentence when omitted. – Elizabeth Oct 5 '19 at 12:22
  • 1
    @Elizabeth Essentially yes. I've just thought of another instant. "The" is nearly always included when talking about things like specific buildings. For example "The Houses of Parliament are in London" no native BrE speaker would ever say "Houses of Parliament are in London". In these cases it still denotes that the building etc is unique, but without giving emphasis. – Peter Jennings Oct 5 '19 at 12:56
  • 1
    @Elizabeth - No, the "the" cannot always be omitted. As noted below, a "the" will almost always be required (a) when the nouse is singular or (b) when the noun refers to a specific thing. – TechnoCat Oct 5 '19 at 13:41
  • I wonder if it was used simply because data can be such a tricky word. – J.R. Oct 5 '19 at 21:38
3

In the example sentences you quote, using the definite article "the" is indeed optional. However, the meaning of the sentences is subtly different between when "the" is used and when it's not.

The basic distinction between "the" and no article for plural nouns is the same as between "the" and "a"/"an" for singular nouns: it indicates the definiteness of the noun that follows it:

  • "The tree in my backyard is tall" means that there is exactly one tree in your backyard, and it's tall.
  • "A tree in my backyard is tall" implies only that there is at least one tall tree in your backyard; it doesn't necessarily say anything about whether there are any other trees in your backyard, or whether those other trees are tall or not (although it does suggest that only the tallness of one of them is worth mentioning in this particular context).
  • "The trees in my backyard are tall" means that all trees in your backyard are tall (and that there's probably more than one, or else you would've used the singular form).
  • "Trees in my backyard are tall" implies that some trees (possibly all of them, possibly just one, or anything in between) in your backyard are tall; it also generally suggests that being tall is typical of trees in your backyard, although there might be some exceptions.

Basically, a phrase like "the <things> in <location>" implies that there's a definite set of these things in that location, and that we're talking about all of them (and no others). In contrast, the phrase "<things> in <location>" without a preceding "the" can simply refer to some things in the location, not necessarily all of them.

For example, your example sentence:

The data in Table 1 were assembled from studies in North America...

makes it clear that all of the data in Table 1 were assembled from studies in North America. Without "the", it could mean that only some of the data were from studies in North America, while the rest of them might be from some other sources.

Conversely, in the sentence:

Fluxes shown in Table 1 are different from Tables 2 and 3 because...

the lack of a definite article leaves open the possibility that some of the fluxes shown in Table 1 might not actually be all that different from those in Tables 2 and 3, as long as at least some of them are different. With "the" in front of "fluxes", the sentence would imply that all of the fluxes are different.

Similarly, the sentence:

Results of the calculations indicate that...

might refer to only some of the results of the calculations; other results could well be completely irrelevant and indicate nothing like what the rest of the sentence says, or, just possibly, they might even appear to be contradictory. Writing "the results" with a definite article would imply that the author was talking about all of the results of the calculations, and that they all indicate the same conclusions; it would also at least implicitly suggest that none of the results indicate anything else worthy of note, at least not in this particular context.

But in practice, those distinctions can be very subtle, since often there's not much difference between the definite and indefinite versions, and since usually the intended meaning is clear from context anyway. In your first example sentence, even if author had omitted the definite article, we could still reasonably assume that they were referring to all of the data if they didn't mention any other possible source for the rest of them. Meanwhile, in the other two example sentences, it probably doesn't really matter whether all of the fluxes are actually different between the tables, or whether all of the results of the calculations are really needed to support the author's conclusion (at least as long as none of them actively contradict it, in which case an honest author really should explicitly note it anyway).

  • Good answer, @ilmari-karonen. The singular nouns ("the tree in my garden", "the value in cell F3") are obviously easy. The complexity arises with plural nouns, where the appropriateness of the definite article can be indeterminate until the whole sentence is revealed and where - as you say - use of the definite article will subtly change the meaning. – TechnoCat Oct 6 '19 at 0:37
  • Hi, thank you for your answer, I wonder if there are any English Writing books summerise these nuances or you summarised them by yourselves from your own years of experience? – Elizabeth Oct 6 '19 at 6:47
1

Grammar has its place; so does style

  • Start an idea in a paragraph or sentence with something specific:

  • The data in Tables 1 and 3 were gathered in 2015. [for example]

"The" is used in contrast to what could or might be something like:

  • The data in Tables 5 and 6
  • The earlier data
  • Some other data contrasted with the data is Tables 1 and 3.

Once the specificity of the data has been established, you no longer need to use "the":

Example: The accidents [on some date] involved many vehicles. Cars and trucks were piled up on the highway for miles and miles.

Example: The games played by the team were very exciting. Players were very motivated to win.

Summary: The use of articles can be determined by grammar but also by context.

  • Not true and misleading. The first time a particular subject is mentioned, it often doesn't need 'the'. Subsequent mentions require 'the' to indicate that we're continuing to talk about the same thing. "The accidents" assumes we've already heard that there were accidents on that date, while "cars and trucks were piled up" assumes we haven't heard the details; if we continued to talk about the cars and trucks, 'the' would be mandatory. – the-baby-is-you Oct 5 '19 at 19:51
  • I didn't say the first time a subject is mentioned. I said when an idea begins with a specific thing: The data in rows A and B is correct. Specific. The accidents on May 1st were terrible. Specific: those on May 1st. What I said is not misleading. I've been doing this a long time. – Lambie Oct 5 '19 at 20:13
  • But you don't stop using 'the' once you've established the thing. That's pretty much the opposite of how it works. – the-baby-is-you Oct 6 '19 at 2:26
  • @the-baby-is-you I just gave two examples in my answer that show the "the" can subsequently be omitted once specificity is established. And your criticism of them is wrong. – Lambie Oct 6 '19 at 12:25
  • You've come to a faulty conclusion based on limited evidence. I don't have the energy to analyze this fully right now, but is it so hard to imagine it could be more nuanced than you described? – the-baby-is-you Oct 15 '19 at 4:33

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