This sentences seems to be correct : The Babylonians are most famous for their early development of agriculture and trade.

Would it be correct to say (zero article): Babylonians are most famous for their early development of agriculture and trade ?

If not, why not? These sentences are correct for me, would you agree?

Where did Romans come from? (zero article) OR Hunting would have been common for Egyptians, and this is also the period when many animals were first domesticated. (zero article before Egyptians).

In short, do we always need the determinate article before groups of people who lived in ancient civilizations or are zero articles possible too? What is the difference and how do you know when to use or not use one?

Also how does this compare to nationalities? Italians love cooking is correct when referring to nationality (i.e. all people from Italy) but The Italians love cooking, would be correct only when referring to a group of people one knows, similar to Are the Italians coming over to dinner tonight? Whereas those nationalities which do not have a plural would take the to refer to the whole group, eg. The British speak British English.

Thanks in advance.

1 Answer 1


There are two things to consider:

First of all, there's a difference between speaking about living races of people and historical races of people. We tend to use the article for ancient races such as the Romans or the Babylonians as you are referring to a specific group of people rather than making a generalisation about some people that exist today. In some cases, such as the Greeks, we would specify the ancient Greeks to distinguish them from modern-day Greeks.

Anything you say a dead race did must be in the past tense, although you may be using present tenses for present-day knowledge about them. It is common to include the article when speaking about what they did or what they were known for:

  • The Romans had a great army.
  • The Romans were known for their army.

This may be a matter of opinion, but it feels natural to me to omit the article when speaking about what they are presently known for, for example, "Romans are remembered for their armies".

When it comes to present-day races though, there is some variation. Some races are identified by a noun, others by an adjective used as a noun. When it is the latter, it tends to require an article.

For example, inhabitants of Great Britain can be called Britons, but they are more commonly known as the British. Similarly, Spain's natives are Spaniards, but more commonly referred to as the Spanish. Without the definite article, "British" or "Spanish" can refer to anything - not just people - that originates from those countries. On the other hand, "Italian" can be used without an article.

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