Up to now, historians have assumed that calendars came into being with the advent of agriculture, for then man was faced with a real need to understand something about the seasons.

I don't understand why the definite article "the" is used in this context, as "seasons" is plural, which describes the general concept of "seasons," and also there is no indication in the context that "the seasons" refer back to something mentioned before.
Thus, I suppose "the" should be deleted.

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    In this case "the seasons" refers to a specific set of well-known seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. It's not the general concept of seasons, but the named ones in particular. Dec 25, 2020 at 0:33

3 Answers 3


This may not be a good idea, but I am tempted to put this in computer programming terms. My feeling about this as a native speaker who just saw this question come up on the sidebar is that when you say "the seasons", you are passing a data structure, whereas when you say "seasons", you are passing the data individually.

So if you want to "understand birds and bees" = understand (birds, bees), your mental procedure might be to understand birds then understand bees. Anything relevant about the two individual concepts should be understood, but you don't need to have any particular reason for focusing on those two organisms.

But if you "understand the birds and [the] bees" = understand ({birds, bees}), now your mental procedure looks at the data structure passed to it {birds, bees} and notices that there are exactly two items on that list, and might consider what they have in common, and look in a table of idioms and observations about that particular list of elements.

Similarly, "understanding seasons" means you learn something about summer, then maybe winter, then you might look at fall... you might understand something about each season. But you haven't defined them as a structure like {spring, summer, fall, winter} that has a certain number of entries, perhaps you think of them in a specific order or at least specify them as repeating, and you try to understand the common basis of the phenomenon rather than the basis of each season.

  • I find it weird that this answer gets accepted - I would think it does not reflect how the majority of speakers would use and interpret this phrase at all. It's creative, but I don't think it describes what is going on. and the upvotes indicate the same.
    – relatively
    Dec 27, 2020 at 14:12

As the comment says, "the seasons" refers to a specific set of seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. in temperate climates; dry and rainy in some tropical areas. Also, "the seasons" is a standard fixed phrase. When speaking (or writing) about a set of things, particularly when there is really only one set, and especially when it is part of the natural world 'The winds", "the seas", "the tides", and "the waves" among others are all traditionally formed with a definite article


Canadian Yankee is correct (and perhaps should make an answer?) It's irrelevant that seasons is plural - "the" specifies a particular group or set. A specific group is often referred to with singular syntax.

Note that in this case deleting "the" wouldn't really change the meaning. Since "the seasons" referred to are the only seasons, there's no logical difference between "seasons" and "the seasons". But "the seasons" reads more naturally.

  • actually there are several setts of seasons, in different parts of the world. Butr in any one place there is only one set. Dec 25, 2020 at 3:24
  • @DavidSiegel I'm pretty sure that the solstices and equinoxes that define and delimit the four seasons occur at the same time everywhere on Earth. Things like baseball season, moose-hunting season, and the pre-Christmas shopping season are not seasons in the astronomical sense we use with the solar calendar. By name the austral seasons are flipped compared with the boreal ones, but everything is still governed by orbital mechanics, axial tilt, and sundry related matters astronomical.
    – tchrist
    Dec 26, 2020 at 20:54
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    @tchrist Yes, solstices and equinoxes are global, although their significance is rather different in tropical regions. But "fall",, "spring", "summer", and "winter" are the names of climatologist events, not astronomical ones. In many tropical areas, the only significant seasons are "dry" and "rainy" . as Wikipedia says: "there are a number of both modern and historical cultures whose number of seasons vary. ". Egypt has flood, growth, and low water seasons. The four-season patters is for temperate areas. Dec 26, 2020 at 21:13
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    actually, if someone said to me "understand seasons", I would be tempted to think of them in more generality than if someone said "understand the seasons". I would very likely start thinking about seasons on other planets, too. Not if someone said it with a "the". In this second case I think I would think of the local seasons, with high probability, if when it comes to my mind that in other regions there might be other seasons, I might complain to the asker - "well, WHICH seasons?". Not if they had said "understand seasons", then I would not feel I had any right to make such a complaint.
    – relatively
    Dec 27, 2020 at 14:07
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    I said in a previous comment that leaving out the "the" would prompt me to interpert the statement more generally, more openly. I think it would happen because I would stumble over the unfamiliarity of the phrase without the "the" (it is just more often used with "the") and my mind would automatically start to try to interpret what leaving it off might be intended to mean by the speaker.
    – relatively
    Dec 27, 2020 at 14:10

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