I read this link about using “the”:

When is it specific enough for 'the' to be used (e.g. [potential article] + [noun] + [prep.] + [another noun])?

In Eddie Kal’s answer, that said:

(1) I hate the residents of that tall building.

==>You are saying you hate all of them. You are taking all the people living in that building as a whole, as a collective unity, and you hate that collective unity.

(2) I hate residents of that tall building.

==>You are instead saying you hate some, maybe most, people living in that building for some reason.

I have another similar situations:

*Situation 1: I want to make a statement:

(3) The nurses in my hospital are nice.

==>Does this mean that I refer to all nurses in my hospital?

(4) Nurses in my hospital are nice.

==>Does this mean that I refer to some, maybe most, not all nurses?

*Situation 2: I want to make a statement when standing in a book store:

(5) I love the books of this book store.

==> Here I refer to all books of that book store.

(6) I love books of this books store

==>Here I refer to some books, or most of the books here, not all books.

*Situation 3: I want to introduce my city to a foreign friend:

(7) The stores/ people in my city are nice. Believe me.

==> Here I refer to all stores/ people in my city. Right?

(8) Stores/ people in my city are nice. Believe me.

==> Here I refer to some, or most stores/ people, not all stores/people in my city. Right?

Is my opinion of each sentence above correct? If not please tell my what is the difference between each pair of sentences.

  • 1
    It should be, "... the books in this book store".
    – gotube
    Dec 29, 2022 at 16:33

3 Answers 3


As others have pointed out, the use of the definite article is very subtle. It depends on many factors.

Here is one way to think about it: by default, the plural without an article might occur in a sentence that expresses a generalization about a kind: "Nurses in Canada are very friendly". It portrays Canadian nurses as all basically alike in some way (of course this oversimplifies things; if you want to be exact, use a quantifier like all, most, or some).

However, if making a generalization with respect to a closely associated specific whole or institution, it is often best to use the: "The nurses in this hospital are nice." (Because a nurse is a role within a hospital.) Likewise, the products in a store: "The books in this store are excellent." Or parts of a complex whole: "The elevators of this building are slow." Intuitively, this is because the part is expected to be present if you mention the whole—it is not surprising that if you are talking about a hospital, you might bring up its nurses. Whereas it would be odder (without specific context) to say "The nurses in Canada are nice." because there is no special association between nurses and countries. (Compare: "I went to the hospital/Canada and the nurses were nice." It is normal with "the hospital" but strange with "Canada"—unless it is understood that you were going to Canada for medical treatment, for example.)

Note that liking books in a store suggests that you are inside the store when evaluating the books. To talk about the books that a store sells in general, better to phrase it differently: "(What kind of books do you like?) I like books from this store" or "I like this store's books". There is no definite article then, because you are talking about the kind of books the store sells, and they are not part of the store once they have been sold. However, if you have been discussing the store, the definite article can be used: "(What do you think of this store?) I like the books from this store, but I'm not wild about the music."*

* ...I think. This is all extremely difficult to reason about even as a native speaker who has studied definiteness in English.

  • "THE nurses in this hospital are nice." ==>Many native people tell me that "The" is optional in this sentence. Actually, I don't know the reason. It should be a subtle difference, but I don't understand what it is. I think that the version with "the" is more reasonable.
    – LE HANH
    Dec 24, 2022 at 4:52
  • It may depend on the context.
    – nschneid
    Dec 24, 2022 at 4:58
  • I want to give my advice to my friend, I recommend her to try the services of a hospital. I think "the" is fine to use: " The nurses in this hospital is nice, I think you should come there to cure your illness."Could you please give me a context, in which no article is more reasonable to use?
    – LE HANH
    Dec 24, 2022 at 5:15
  • 1
    I think if the focus is on the role of nurse as opposed to some other role, "the" becomes less necessary. "In this hospital, nurses are responsible for medical record-keeping, not doctors." Adding the definite article to "nurses" and "doctors" is not wrong, but it seems to emphasize all the individuals, as opposed to the role (job description).
    – nschneid
    Dec 24, 2022 at 5:34
  • "The stores in my town are nice." because stores are a salient feature of towns.==> what if I remove “the”, what is the difference?
    – LE HANH
    Dec 24, 2022 at 6:10

I understand these plurals to mean "the things in general, not specific to the store or hospital.

So "Nurses in this hospital are nice", seems similar to "Nurses, when they are in this hospital, are nice". That is very close in meaning to "The nurses...", and so I judge those sentences to be basically the same in meaning.

However, it is not normal or natural to utter:

I love books in this bookstore .

This means "when I am in this shop that sells books, I love books (generally all books both the books in the shop and the books not in the shop)" That is rather odd, and I would assume that the article "the" had been omitted in error.

If you want the meaning "some" you should use the word "some"!

I love some of the books in this bookstore.

The final one is similar to the Nurses example. I judge the two examples to mean the same. If you want to say that "some of the people" you must use the word "some".

  • If so I CAN NOT say " I love books in this book store", but I CAN say " Books in book store are interesting". Right?
    – LE HANH
    Dec 18, 2022 at 8:38
  • Well, "Books in this bookstore are interesting" is similar to the "nurses" example. I'd accept it, but I would prefer the form with "The books...". Using "the" means you are saying what you mean, which is good.
    – James K
    Dec 18, 2022 at 8:49
  • About the example in the link I gave, Similar to "the book" example. I think that, It should be "I hate THE residents of that tall building". The version without "the" is not correct. Right?
    – LE HANH
    Dec 18, 2022 at 8:55
  • Again, as you have determined which residents, you should use "the".
    – James K
    Dec 18, 2022 at 9:07
  • 1
    Ed says "You can say 'residents'." I say "'the residents' is better". I'm sure Ed would agree that it isn't wrong to say "the residents". So use that.
    – James K
    Dec 18, 2022 at 9:31

I hate the residents of that building.

This is what we call a sweeping statement. Yes, "the residents" does mean all the residents, but it could be a generalisation based on having met just some of them.

Your other example of "the stores in my town are nice" is the same. It would be understood to mean that, in general, the stores are nice. Saying "some are nice" sounds like some are not nice, and possibly come over less positive.

Generalisations are very common. Someone saying "I don't like spicy food" could be based on a few bad experiences and doesn't mean they've sampled every spicy dish in existence. Saying "I don't like some spicy food" would be taken to mean that you do like some.

Even though it might be a generalisation, using the definite article means that you are being specific. It wouldn't mean the same if you removed the article. "I hate residents in that building" could mean you don't like the fact that anyone lives there at all - that you'd prefer the building be empty. I'm not going to go through all your examples, but removing the article changes the meaning of all of them in different ways.

  • You said :"the stores in my town are nice" is the same. It would be understood to mean that, in general, the stores are nice. " What if I remove "the" like this "stores in my town are nice". What is the difference in the meaning ? The context is that I want to introduce my city to one of my foreign friend.
    – LE HANH
    Dec 24, 2022 at 3:42
  • It sounds fine to include the definite article in "The stores in my town are nice." because stores are a salient feature of towns. See my answer.
    – nschneid
    Dec 24, 2022 at 4:20
  • 1
    @LEHANH "Stores in my town are nice" could sound like any store that opens in your town will be nice. Like it's the town that makes them nice. When you take away the definite article it removes the specificity. There might be other inferences too... it could sound like you're saying stores in someone else's town are not nice. Like I said, it affects your examples in different ways.
    – Astralbee
    Dec 24, 2022 at 9:36
  • "(The) stores in my town are nice".==> The difference is so subtle, so that I can use either. Right? And native speakers also use either too. Right?
    – LE HANH
    Dec 24, 2022 at 11:29
  • @Astralbee could you please help me with the above question?
    – LE HANH
    Dec 25, 2022 at 0:31

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .