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I can usually understand the ‘the’ usage with a single noun, but when it comes to noun phrases with of, it is totally confusing to me.

Like in the following phrases:

  1. (the) levels of bacteria in seawater at popular beaches
  2. a fund for (the) cleanup of sites damaged by toxic chemicals
  3. (the) decline of the United States steel industry
  4. (the) possibility of having an economy free of inflation
  5. (the) mountainous regions of northen Ethiopia

Can the (the) be omitted? Are the phrases both OK with or without the (the)? Is it just that they are used in different contexts?
The ‘the’ usage with noun phrases is just too difficult for me. Could someone please kindly explain this to me?

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  • I don't have anything helpful to say, but if it makes you feel better, my friend (native English speaker) has a lot of memories of trying to explain to her mother (not a native English speaker, but had a Ph.D. in linguistics) when to use "the" vs "a/an" and when to not use an article at all and both of them just not being able to understand it at all because there aren't standard rules - every rule is broken all the time and you kind of just have to memorize specific phrases and be okay knowing that everybody will still know what you are talking about if you get it wrong Sep 25, 2023 at 1:58
  • "the" can be left out in newspaper speak or trade journals with countable nouns. Also, one general rule is that [determiner] x of y takes a or the. the is specific, a is general. They could all be said with a, too. But none of them would not take a or the.
    – Lambie
    Feb 22 at 18:46
  • It's every difficult for us to deal with those Chinese characters.
    – Lambie
    Mar 23 at 20:47

1 Answer 1

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This question possibly already has an answer here: articles with noun phrases

In short, depending on the context, you can often either include or exclude the article, and both options are correct.

Levels of pollution in the North Sea are rising.

The levels of pollution in the North Sea are rising.

Both are absolutely fine.

When you have to include an article is when you are definitely referring to a specific instance of a noun phrase.

He wants to visit the mountainous regions of Northern Ethiopia.

"Mountainous regions of Ethiopia" acts as a countable noun phrase. Although there are several regions, the noun phrase acts as a singular countable entity. Which mountainous regions does he want to visit? The specific mountainous regions of Ethiopia.

Contrast that with:

Mountainous regions around the world are characterised by altitude and rocks.

Which mountainous regions? All of them. Not a specific mountainous region. Even so, you could still add "the", but you don't have to.

It may help to put your phrase into a question, as I have done above. Hope this helps.

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  • I am still a little bit confused. Can I say this is mountainous regions of Ethiopia or these are mountainous regions of Ethiopia ?
    – 柳安安
    Sep 26, 2023 at 1:22
  • Do "decline of the United States steel industry" and "cleanup of sites damaged by toxic chemicals" also act as a singular countable entity?@fred2
    – 柳安安
    Sep 26, 2023 at 1:30

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