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I want to merge two common sayings and use them as signature on scuba diving related web sites. I've come up with:

Plan the dive, dive the plan, and never forget that no plan survives the contact with the reality.

but I've trouble with the two "the" in bold. It seems to me that all four variations (with and without each "the") are correct, but I don't know what nuance each conveys. Which would be better and why?

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    You're quite right that all 4 permutations are valid. And they mean the same - it's a bit pointless speculating about nuances of difference in such contexts. In practice, what possible difference could it make to a reader whether he imagines that the reference to "contact with reality" is "generic", or specific to the particular planned dive? But no articles is best. Mar 17, 2023 at 17:24
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    In the dive and the the plan, you're talking about specific ones (the ones that you are planning and making), so the articles are appropriate, but "contact" is a general concept, so it should not have an article.
    – stangdon
    Mar 17, 2023 at 17:49
  • General concepts like reality seldom take an article unless you're talking about a specific instance of that concept. So you usually wouldn't use one unless you have a phrase like "the reality of the situation." Mar 17, 2023 at 17:59
  • no plan survives the contact with the reality.=not great. It sounds like even if the divers have a plan, reality will beat them.
    – Lambie
    Mar 17, 2023 at 18:21

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The original phrase was "No plan survives contact with the enemy." It refers to a plan of battle, and "the enemy" is a mass noun referring to all the troops fielded by an opposing force.

In your version of the phrase, 'reality' is a singular noun. There is only one reality, so you don't need to say "the reality". The most common way to write it would be "No plan survives contact with reality."

You could say "the reality", in which case it would mean something like "the reality of the situation", but it feels a bit awkward and isn't necessary, so I don't recommend it.

While "the contact" is also potentially valid (as in "the moment of contact"), that also feels awkward -- but more to the point, since you're borrowing an idiom with a set phrasing, you should stick to the original wording as much as possible.

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  • +1. Especially the last paragraph. When you're adapting a quote, it's generally best to stick as close to the original quote as possible.
    – Jay
    Mar 18, 2023 at 4:33

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