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Please consider the following two pairs of sentences. The two choices under each pair differ only in the use of the definite article "the":

Pair 1:

  • (A) He talked about validation of the new product.
  • (B) He talked about the validation of the new product.

Pair 2:

  • (A) The new feature can make control of the system more difficult.
  • (B) The new feature can make the control of the system more difficult.

A native speaker has told me that choice B is preferred in the first pair while choice A is preferred in the second. I wonder why we should use the definite article in the first pair but not in the second one? The structure of the two sentences seems pretty similar. In particular, I think the two words "validation" and "control" both serve as noncountable nouns in the above examples.

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  • I disagree with your friend; I think "A" is preferable in the first example as well. But all are acceptable. Note: none of these examples are using "the" to identify one specific thing distinct from others, like "He talked about the neighborhood houses": in this example, deleting "the" would change the meaning. Mar 1 at 17:47
  • I do agree with your friend! Except that in the first pair, the (very slight) difference between including the article or not is that if it is present, this implies that both speaker and audience are perfectly familiar with the principle that all new products in their company have associated "validation" procedures (which other products in other companies might not). No such distinction can reasonably apply with the second pair of examples - [the] "control of a system" is too vague a concept to say whether it might or might not exist with any given system. Mar 1 at 18:06
  • I much prefer A for the first example, but do not like either of the options in example 2. I would instead use "The new feature can make controlling the system more difficult." That's just me, all are correct.
    – Eli Harold
    Mar 1 at 21:04

2 Answers 2

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All the options could be said by native speakers, but all are not equally good. Also, some carry different nuances or are associated with different pragmatics.

Pair 1:

(A) He talked about validation of the new product.

(B) He talked about the validation of the new product.

Sentence 1(A) has a generic reference to "validation" and is substantially equivalent to saying: "He talked about validating the new product." Such a generic usage is best when product validation is not a concept already prominent in the shared discussion background of the people talking. In other words, it does not reactivate an existing entity in the shared atmosphere of the discussion. It is also good to describe something that is not yet detailed enough in their common frame of reference to merit a specific reference.

Sentence 1(B) instructs the listener to reactivate some specific instance of validation that both parties would be familiar with. It conjures up an idea of existing documentation that represents the actual validation. Before validation actually happens, the "instance of validation" remains somewhat vague, especially if unconnected with more specifics, such as a date, specific documentation, a specific result, or specific date. Before the event of validation, it is probably more common to use a generic reference and omit the article, since the specific instance is still too uncertain.

These distinctions would also apply if you replaced "validation" with "design," "manufacture," "marketing," etc.

Pair 2:

(A) The new feature can make control of the system more difficult.

(B) The new feature can make the control of the system more difficult.

Sentence 2(A) is a generic reference to control and so applies to any instance where control might be difficult. You could replace it with "The new feature can make the controlling the system more difficult."

Sentence 2(B) feels slightly strange because it suggests that "the control" is a specific entity already known to the parties and distinct from other instances of control. In a highly technical discussion, where the manner of system control is highly differentiated from control of other systems, this usage becomes better; however, even then a generic reference to control would always be possible.

Why is "control" different from "validation," "design," "manufacture," and "marketing"? I think it is because in a company the latter can be associated with specific documentation, procedures, and protocols central to company operations. They have things about them that can differentiate one instance from another. "Control" is just a generic aspect of every system on the planet and usually doesn't have further specifics associated with it in people's minds.

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  • Perfect. Thank you for your help!
    – Jeff
    Mar 2 at 6:22
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Losing the is more of a colloquial, "slang" term to help reduce the amount of words said / written. Whilst both are correct in writing and speaking, choosing where to include the is us to the user's opinion.

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