Should I use the in the following sentences or not?

  1. Every colony of ants has worker ants. The worker ants/ worker ants protect their colony and the queen ant.

  2. Colonies of ants have worker ants. The worker ants/ worker ants protect their colonies and queen ants.

I think in the first context, the is needed because it somehow implies 'The worker ants of every colony'. And in the second context the is not needed.

And here is another example:

  1. Tigers are very ferocious. Tigers/the tigers are great killers too and the biggest species of cat family.

I know you'd suggest using the pronoun they instead in all the above sentences. I would use they there too. But when I was teaching my nephew he asked me If he could use those words instead. I was not sure which one to choose: the ones with the or the ones without the.

2 Answers 2


I do not see examples 1 and 3 as raising an issue of grammar at all. In both, you are really referring to all worker ants, all within a colony in the first example, all in the universe in the second. So in neither example do you need to specify some specific set of worker ants. Just because you do not need the article does not always make its use wrong. By using it, you are emphasizing the distinction between worker ants and other types of ants such as drones.

As a matter of style, I do agree with you that I prefer the article in the first example, where, by using the singular "colony" and "queen ant," we are indicating some within the entire universe of ants. Similarly, like you, I prefer no article in the second example. But I feel that is style rather than grammar.

In the third example, where you clearly are referring to the entire class of tigers, I'd definitely prefer "Tigers" or "The tiger" over "the tigers." But again I am not sure that is a rule of grammar.


If are speaking about some specific worker ants, then the definite article is appropriate. You could be speaking the worker ants in the particular colony you are studying, but even if you mean to make a statement about all worker ants, as you are speaking about their function within a colony, 'the worker ants' means those within each colony.

Referring to them with zero article is much more of a generalisation. It would mean all worker ants anywhere; past, present and future. It can sound a little disconnected from your subject matter, though. Let's say you're watching a nature documentary and you're seeing worker ants carrying out some action. If the narrator says 'the worker ants' do this, you understand they are narrating the actions of the ants you see but perhaps also that any other ants would do the same. By contrast, a statement with zero article may not have anything to do with what the particular ants on screen are doing. This could be a useful or necessary device - for example, if you wanted to suggest some kind of motive or reason for their action which was drawn from a wider study rather than the specific instance you are observing.

There is another way to refer to all animals of a particular kind, and that is to use the definite article with a singular noun. This would make sense in your second example about Tigers, as your current example with an article does not sound correct.

  • Tigers are great killers too and the biggest species of cat.
  • The tiger is a great killer too, and the biggest species of cat.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .