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I have a few questions about my latest exam results. I cannot see why these sentences were marked as incorrect and do not find the explanations convincing.

  1. "Statistics show that unemployment is on the rise". The teacher's comment: "You need to use the definite article here so the statistics show...". I have to admit I have rarely seen this in English; it would seem to me that "statistics" will usually not be used with the definite article? Or, at least, can you say that it is wrong when taken out of context? There was no context given here; we were just supposed to choose between statistics shows/statistics show.
  2. "March of 1980 was unusually hot". The teacher´s comment: "You need to say "The March" as it refers to a particular month, not just any month". I have never seen the definite article used with names of months in English so this sounds very strange to me...
  3. "A car is considered a luxury possession". Teacher´s comment: "The car".

Any comments would be much appreciated so that I can learn something from this exercise!

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    Your teacher is ignorant. S/he is mistaken on all three counts. In all cases the utterance is still "valid" with the teacher's phrasing, but with #1 and #3 they're simply equally acceptable alternatives. And in the case of #2, I'd say including the article is at the very least "unusual, marked", compared to not including it. So that change is effectively "counterproductive". And certainly the "justification" for the teacher's position is just nonsense. Commented Mar 1, 2022 at 17:33
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    Here is an example from the New York Times using "Statistics show that" with no article: nytimes.com/2008/04/21/sports/golf/21pennington.html
    – stangdon
    Commented Mar 1, 2022 at 18:04

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All of these are, at least, open to opinion and interpretation; for some, your teacher is offering some strange options.

  1. "Statistics show that unemployment is on the rise". You could use a definite article, "the statistics, but one could also use no article. "The research has shown this vitamin to be effective": means "the research [on this topic]." But "Research has shown..." is understood to have the same meaning; contextually, we don't suppose that astrophysic research has any bearing on vitamins.
  2. "March of 1980 was unusually hot". The teacher's suggestion to use "The March" is downright odd, though not impossible. Their explanation that we need the definite article to make it clear what we're referring to is not a good explanation; it's not just "any month," because we said March, and it's not just any March because we specified the year. The most idiomatic choice here would be to use no article. One might use one if context compared several "Marches": "March is often a warm month, but the March of 1980 was unusually hot"... but even in that context it's not required.
  3. "A car is considered a luxury possession". The teacher's suggestion of "The car" is complicated. There is no context. One would of course choose "the" if we had already been talking about a specific car—"The city taxed his Buick heavily; the car was considered...", but there's no suggestion of that here. It is true that you can use the definite article for "generic reference"—you could say "The lion is the apex predator of the savannah." However, this would mean that we're talking about all cars ever, as a group. The teacher's suggestion is not idiomatic, because we're not, really. It would be idiomatic to say "The car was the most important invention of the 20th century," because we're talking about the concept in the abstract. However, "___ car is considered a luxury possession," while it deals in the abstract, deals with a single hypothetical car. Your suggestion of the indefinite article is more idiomatic (though using the plural would be even more idiomatic: "Cars are considered luxury possessions").
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  • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on this! I did have the impression the teacher is not correct on all accounts, and that her reasoning sounds strange. This is a grammar exercise where you have a number of sentences and are supposed to decide if you should use the indefinite or definite article or no article at all. So, there really is no context.
    – Catarina
    Commented Mar 1, 2022 at 18:01
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    @Catarina Which is part of the problem, by the way. Language isn't just an abstract thing; it is used to convey meaning, and meaning is constructed by context. Commented Mar 1, 2022 at 18:10

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