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I've noticed that the nouns that go after a collective noun often have either "a"/"zero" article even when the logic suggests using "the". (I'm using the term "zero/a" because "zero" and "a" are very similar in meaning)

When I was at that restaurant I was approached by a group of _ waiters

I was at the lecture but I noticed that a lot of _ students weren't listening

Despite "waiters" being expected in this context (as well as students). We use "zero" instead of "the". I think that's because collective nouns often force us to emphasize the class of the object we're talking about, thus making us opt for "a/zero" (since only "a/zero" has this classifying function)

To test this hypothesis I want ask you to look at the following sentence:

I started watching this TV series a few days ago and my friend told me that the majority of ? characters will die by the end of season 1.

Should I say "the characters"? They are obviously expected to be present in a TV series, however, being used after a collective noun "the majority of" might force us to use "zero/a"

2 Answers 2

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When I was at that restaurant I was approached by a group of _ waiters

We don't use "the" because we're specifying the content of the group in general --waiters, as opposed to customers or food inspectors-- and not specifying that it was a group formed from a subset of the waiters from that restaurant. The listener is left to infer that the waiters in the group were some or all of the waiters working in that restaurant.

So your analysis is correct, that without "the", the preposition "of" specifies the class of the content of the group rather than the specific source of the content of the group.

If we say, "...a group of the waiters", then we probably should have mentioned the waiters in the context before.

This means that yes:

... the majority of the characters will die by the end of season 1

because we're specifying that the content of "majority" is specifically a subset of the characters on that show, rather than characters in general.

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The majority of the characters in the series will die by the end of Season One. [specific, that series]

The majority of the people on the bus were very hostile. [specific, that bus]

COMPARE:

The majority of characters in TV series are one-dimensional people. [a generality, TV series meant in the plural].

The majority of people on buses are rather patient. [generality, on buses]

English is quite tricky but one thing is pretty certain. "x of the y" is specific whereas "x of y plural noun" is a generality.

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    Similarly, 'a lot of the students [present at the lecture]. Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 17:38

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