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a. If you hit on Hannah at her birthday party, guests will notice.
b. If you hit on Hannah at her birthday party, the guests will notice.

Is there a difference in the meanings of the sentences?

I think they are both grammatical, but (a) sounds a bit strange.

I think in (a), some or all of the guests will notice.

I think (b) implies that all of the guests will notice, but I am not sure that in practice the sentence would be used that way.

I think people use (b) instead of (a).

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In (a), some guests will notice, but we don't know which ones. It might be some of the guests or all of the guests. It might be guests at the party or guests somewhere else. (However, no other event is mentioned, so readers will assume that the author means guests at the party.)

In (b), specific guests are mentioned. The only obvious ones are the guests at the party, so those are certainly the guests being referred to.

Even though (b) refers to the entire group of guests at the party, it does not necessarily do so literally. For example, if I say "the doughnuts at this bakery are delicious", it is possible that there are some that I do not like.

Neither sentence sounds strange; English speakers use both versions.

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  • I do not disagree with this answer, which I have upvoted, but I do think a careful user of English will omit the article to imply “some but probably not all” and include the definite article to imply “all, or at least most.” Aug 29, 2022 at 17:26
  • @JeffMorrow I agree. I've deleted "I also think that that (b) is more common", which I think might have implied that (b) was generally preferable. Aug 29, 2022 at 17:33
  • Even better. Cant upvote twice though. Aug 29, 2022 at 18:08

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