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"in presence of" vs "in the presence of"

Should we use "in presence of" or "in the presence of" in the following sentence?

"We should show more respect in the presence of the elders."

"We should show more respect in presence of the elders."

  • 3
    In the presence of is correct. – TheIntern Aug 21 '14 at 20:01
  • 3
    It's show respect, not respects. And unless you have some specific group of "elders" in mind, you probably don't want the definite article before that word. Though as @TheIntern says, you do need it before presence. – FumbleFingers Aug 21 '14 at 20:44
  • I just wanted to make sure both "in presence of vs in the presence of" are fine. If everyone agrees with the answer below, please thumb up his answer (or my question). – mystery Aug 22 '14 at 15:28
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Both are possible. The sentence without the would imply to elders in general. Putting the would specify those elders.

So, if you are talking about the manners, we should show respect in presence of any elder. In that way, I'd not use the definite articles at both the places. Consider these example:

Bala, after her marriage to a shopkeeper in 1983, had never lifted her "purdah" in presence of elders till this Wednesday. - The Times of India

But...

I found a couple of examples that did not use the definite article though they talk about a specific person's presence. The results are from the COCA.

Margaret Garrish, a 72 year-old Detroit woman, commits suicide in the presence of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. -- Associated Press

Just yesterday, I think, Mr. Shevardnadze in the presence of Mr. Baker said again and stressed again that use of force is entirely ruled out. --PBS_Newshour

[Note: The first example is from the Indian newspaper. Native speakers might have different approach on that though].

  • 1
    @ Maulik V, I appreciate your great answer. +1. – mystery Aug 22 '14 at 14:03
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    @MaulikV I couldn't find your two examples on Google Books, though admittedly, in presence of could be found there. However, see also this Ngram chart. – Damkerng T. Aug 22 '14 at 14:20
  • @DamkerngT.I really need some break. Thanks for being a keen reader. – Maulik V Aug 22 '14 at 15:39
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English has few unbreakable rules. But there are general common usages.

"We should show more respect in the presence of the elders."
"We should show more respect in presence of the elders."  

If one wishes to say that more respect for elders should be shown in general, this could be the way:

We should show more respect in presence of elders.

or

We should show more respect in the presence of elders.

If the intent is to apply to specific elders, then:

We should show more respect in the presence of the elders.

or

We should show more respect in presence of the elders.

The choice of construction used would be based on the actual intent of the sentence. If "the elders" would be thought to mean "all elders" by the readers due to an understanding within a readership, then "the elders" could be used to mean elders in general. I do not know of such a readership, but there may be one. Otherwise the construction could safely be one of those indicated above.

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Although Google Ngram Viewer shows that both "in presence of" and "in the presence of" can be found in texts, the use of the latter is noticeably more frequent.

I think that the article (or a pronoun) with "presence" would be, so to speak, more correct, and the reason for that is that the word "presence" very rarely, if not ever, goes without mentioning the person being present.

Besides, in the only one reliable online dictionary where I could find the whole expression, it is "in the presence of (someone)" without mentioning of the possible usage of "presence" without the article.

You may also compare the use of the article in "in the presence of" with that in the expressions like in the middle of the day, at the beginning of the war, in the end of times, etc.

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Merriam-Webster gives the following article.

Definition of "in the presence of (someone) ": when (someone) is present : around

Their daughter is shy in the presence of strangers.

And there is no alternative.

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