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I've seen phrases like "in the dark" and "in darkness" in many examples so far:

"I turned off the light and lay in the dark." "All the lights went out and we were left in the dark."

"His face was in darkness." "The lamp suddenly went out leaving us in darkness."

But can I replace "in the darkness" with "in the dark" in the following sentence?

"He was sitting alone in the darkness" (I came across this sentence in OALD).

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It depends on the context. The phrase in the dark and the word darkness has several meanings. If you want to mean that phrase or words simply absence of light or illumination, both are interchangeable but then, darkness does mean the absence of moral/spiritual values or an unenlightened state.

On the other hand, in the dark also means many things and one of them is to keep someone away from the fact. For instance, Why did you keep me in the dark when you knew that she will not come for sure?

So, again, it's context based. Your sentences:

His face was in darkness can be replaced with in the dark meaning his face was not visible due to absence of light. Also, the second sentence does mean that you want to say an absence of light because the lamp suddenly went.

Please note that if you are using in darkness, it's an adverb as described by WW.

in darkness - without light

So I think both are interchangeable here. But be careful, you cannot replace them always. Refer this...

His holy chants helped us getting out the darkness of the evil spirit --here, if you think about the absence of light/illumination and replace from the dark that way, it won't work.

  • Why do we use “people are afraid of darkness” and “people are afraid of the dark”? – Lucian Sava Jun 2 '14 at 8:11
  • If you mean dark or darkness only the absence of light, both are similar sentences. That's because darkness is due to dark everywhere. – Maulik V Jun 2 '14 at 9:31
  • I don’t know why, in the given examples, dark takes the definite article the while darkness doesn’t. – Lucian Sava Jun 2 '14 at 9:40
  • @LucianSava that's because in darkness is an adverbial phrase. I updated my answer. – Maulik V Jun 2 '14 at 9:50
  • @Maulik V: Thanks for your answer. You've already explained in the dark and in darkness but in my example it is in the darkness. So far, I haven't seen "darkness" being used with "the". That surprises me. Do you have any idea what the reason might be? – M.N Jun 2 '14 at 12:29

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