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I've stumbed upon this sentence in Mauilik V's answer on this site:

If you have an iPhone 6, for instance, you can use both the sentences to describe its functionality.

The use of the definite article in the bolded position seemed strange to me, and I edited the sentence to

If you have an iPhone 6, for instance, you can use both sentences to describe its functionality.

But I have doubts. Both is described as a pre-determiner, that is, it can precede the definite article (a central determiner), like in:

Both the girls were very proud of their achievements at school.

So, was I wrong in changing the sentence and if not, why? In which cases is it not OK to combine both and the?

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  • The edit was strange to me! I was talking about those two sentences in the question and no any other sentence! Quite similar to a case wherein someone asks whether he should use his red car or blue car and I answer you can use both the cars denoting red and blue :) – Maulik V Sep 22 '14 at 11:07
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    No no, it's interesting. Let the natives have a light on it! In fact, +1! :) – Maulik V Sep 22 '14 at 11:10
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    @MaulikV and CopperKettle If you have PEU (Practical English Usage), which I'm sure Maulik has, the after both is possible but usually dropped. See PEU 70.5. – Damkerng T. Sep 22 '14 at 11:17
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    @MaulikV I can't really remember everything in the book. :) But because I usually use it as if it were a dictionary, I think I'm used to searching for things in it. Also, having its app version makes it even easier for me to search. :-) – Damkerng T. Sep 22 '14 at 11:46
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    An app? Where's it? – Maulik V Sep 22 '14 at 11:51
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We RARELY say "both the X" in English, but it is valid and meaningful. The use of "the" here emphasizes that we are talking about a particular set of X.

I can't think of an example where the meaning would really change between "both X" and "both the X", other than emphasis. The word "both" implies that I've already introduced two of something and I am now referring back to those two things, so with or without "the", I must be referring to the same two things.

There are other words that can take the place of "both" where the meaning could change. Consider "There are 100 men in this prison. All the men are vicious killers." Clearly by "all the men" I mean "all the men in the prison". But if instead I said, "There are 100 men in this prison. All men are vicious killers", now I'm saying that all men everywhere are vicious killers, not just the men in the prison. Which is probably not what I meant.

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    That's the reason I used the definite article. – Maulik V Sep 22 '14 at 15:43
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Your edit was correct.

The the after both is unnecessary, as the reader is assumed to know which sentences are being referred to.

Additionally, when using the with both, the phrasing generally used is both of the.

It's likely that both the is a prepositional phrase that is missing its preposition.

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  • Unnecessary, but not outright erroneous? – CowperKettle Sep 22 '14 at 14:32
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    At least in my estimation. I think that "of" should precede the article when used, but it appears often enough without it that labeling it "erroneous" would be too strong. – Eric Hauenstein Sep 22 '14 at 14:40

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