I'm still struggling to outline the difference between "the+plural" and "zero+plural"

  1. There was a football (soccer) game last night and I couldn't fall asleep
  2. because fans at the stadium were cheering loudly
  3. And I also could hear players kicking the ball

both "fans" and "players" are expected to be in this context and have been already introduced by the word "football game" in the sentence #1 (as well as "the ball"). I obviously can reliably use "the fans" and "the players" However, as I understand it, we can still use zero article in both #2 and #3.

  1. Are both "zero" and "the" idiomatic here? What is the best choice of articles in #2 and #3?

  2. if both "zero" and "the" are possible what difference in terms of meaning can you feel between "players/the players", "fans/the fans"?

  • It's difficult to identify any specific shift in meaning here, even though as a native Anglophone I would expect the definite article before both fans AND players in this context. So I would look for some difference if I knew the article-less version came from a competent native speaker (since I'd assume he had some reason for the slightly unusual phrasing). I can't think of any credible intended difference right now - but I know I don't need to because this text is from a non-native speaker (as positively identified by the unusual position of also :) Nov 10, 2022 at 11:13
  • It depends on whether some fans or all fans were making a noise. And likewise who you heard kicking the ball. "The fans" means all the fans at the game, "fans" means some of them. (Although in practice you don't know whether it's some or all, so there's an element of custom or inference, whether you view the fans as a collective group or just some different people.)
    – Stuart F
    Nov 10, 2022 at 17:33
  • @StuartF but as a native speaker you would use "the" in both sentences, right? Nov 11, 2022 at 9:25

1 Answer 1


There was a football (soccer) game last night and I couldn't fall asleep because the fans at the stadium were cheering loudly

The means you expect the listener/reader to know which fans you mean - fans relating to a context you just established with the words "there was a football (soccer) game".

Without the, you don't establish a link between fans and anything previous you said. The implication then is something else other than fans could be cheering loudly. Because it doesn't often make too much sense for things other than fans at a soccer game to be cheering, it sounds awkward or like you are a computer AI that does not understand what a soccer game and its basic elements (players, fans, ball, field, etc.) is.

  • I don't buy this. Even without the [fans], it's explicitly stated that the relevant fans are at the stadium - and it's contextually obvious that stadium must be near wherever the speaker lives. So short of the speaker listing the names and addresses of all the noisy fans, I don't see how they can be any more specifically referenced. I think you're trying to invent a convincing alternative meaning based on the absence of the article before fans - but I'm not convinced. Nov 10, 2022 at 18:53
  • It's bordering on a meaningless distinction, but you could perhaps make a case for saying that if the specific determiner the is not present, it's at least possible to postulate an unstated determiner some fans (i.e. - making the point that not all the fans were noisy). Nov 10, 2022 at 18:58
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    @FumbleFingers So the listener here is lucky because the speaker/writer has provided a lot of context - between the words "football (soccer) game", "stadium", and "cheering loudly", you can't come to any other conclusion. This doesn't make the the optional though, which is something an English language learner may not understand. Can you say "I was at a park and couldn't ride merry-go-round"?
    – LawrenceC
    Nov 12, 2022 at 14:29
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    The definite articles before fans and players in your question are both optional (but would normally be present, as per my first comment under the question). The articles before stadium and ball (and merry-go-round in your above comment) are required. Nov 12, 2022 at 16:08

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