There is a book called "All the Light We Cannot See".

Would be possible to remove the article in this sentence?

Is "All light we cannot see" still grammatically correct? If so, would it change the meaning of the sentence in some way?

  • 1
    This is not a sentence. A sentence is something that has at least a subject and a main verb. This looks like just a title or a phrase.
    – stangdon
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 13:39

3 Answers 3


I feel that removing the article makes the title make less sense. In "all the light", the definite article the means some specific light - in this case, the specific light that we cannot see.

If it were "All light we cannot see" it could be referring to light as a general phenomenon, but it also sounds like it's saying that we cannot see any light, which is a very different meaning!


Removing the article makes no significant change in the meaning. Including the article may be considered more ornate or poetic.

One may also add "of"; "all of the light we cannot see" without changing the meaning.


It would be correct and understood in context, but it is less elegant and precise. There is a subtle shift in meaning, but it also has poorer prosody, which is an important consideration for a title.

In its published form, the phrase is composed of an alternating pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.

This is probably best analysed as four iambs with a dropped initial unstressed syllable, given the terminating quality of the final syllable): "... ALL the LIGHT we CAN-not SEE". If the last word had onstead been "picture", it would probably be analysed as trochees, (think "Hiawatha" or The Kalevala), the contrast of which I think puts us firmly in iambic territory.

Dropping the article creates an awkward pattern of stress which may be acceptable in prose but best avoided in poetry, lyrics, titles, etc. Starting an entire work on an otherwise-unaccounted-for spondee is generally to start on the wrong foot.

In this case, that spondee would be particularly disastrous, as it would lead to a tendency to read "all" as unstressed, and so guide us into the error of analysing the phrase's meaning as "All light, we cannot see", perhaps suggesting weightlessness causes blindness.

In terms of the semantic shift (which I assert is less important in this context) the addition of the article would invoke an implicit contrast with the other kind of light, the light which we can see. Without the article, there is no implicit contrast.

In the context of the book, the light being referred to is the invisible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum (radio waves, radar, and so on). This is not what first comes to mind when we use the word "light" so it's essential to have the article. Imagine if someone had written "But what about ..." or "Consider..." before "all the light ...". This is the meaning which seems to have been intended.

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