10

After a percentage do we use of or of the?

For example:

22% of Americans want Bruce Springsteen to write a new National Anthem.

or

22% of the Americans want Bruce Springsteen to write a new National Anthem.

also

22% of all Americans want Bruce Springsteen to write a new National Anthem.

or

22% of all the Americans want Bruce Springsteen to write a new National Anthem.

Are we supposed to say, for example 25% of the times I lie down I fall asleep or 25% of times I lie down I fall asleep? How can I know when to use % of the and % of?

13

A simple rule of thumb is, when you're talking about a noun that has a restrictive clause on it, use 'the'; if you're talking about an unrestricted noun, don't use 'the'.

An "unrestricted noun" talks about an entire group; a noun with a restrictive clause talks only about some subset of the group.

In your first example, "Americans" is an unrestricted noun: it refers to every American citizen. So, you can leave off "the":

22% of Americans want Bruce Springsteen to write a new national anthem.

In your second example, the noun is "times", but it has the restrictive clause "[that] I lie down"; we are not talking about all times, only a specific subset of them. So we want to use 'the' in this case:

25% of the times I lie down, I fall asleep.

Of course, having laid out this rule of thumb, I feel compelled to point out some exceptions. First, when you use a noun that is understood to be part of some larger group, even though it's not explicitly stated, you still use 'the':

Everybody here is hungry, and most of us have agreed to order pizza, but 40% of the Americans are holding out for cheeseburgers.

Secondly, time almost always takes 'the':

How often do I fall asleep when I lie down? Oh, about 25% of the time.

This is probably because it is implicitly restricted by the conditions in the question, although those conditions are not repeated in the answer.

(The use of all, while not strictly incorrect, is redundant and unnecessary.)

  • 1
    Use all when you want to emphasize the entire group: 35% of Democrats and 97% of Republicans favor lowering the tax rate, but 83% of all Americans want the government to do more for them. – Caleb Dec 5 '14 at 19:07
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    Your "40% of the Americans" implies a group, part of which are Americans. Therein lies the reason for the use of the article. It isn't all Americans, it is the Americans in "everybody here", not all of whom are Americans. So your rule still applies. :) – BobRodes Dec 5 '14 at 21:19
  • @BobRodes that's true, but the restrictive clause is implicit in that case, so to the casual observer or ELLearner it can look like there isn't one at all. :-) – Hellion Dec 5 '14 at 21:21
8

I basically agree with Hellion, but let me attempt to clarify part of his answer.

"Americans" refers to Americans in general, that is, all Americans. "The Americans" can refer to all Americans as a group. Like you could say, "The Americans are a hard-working people". But more often if someone says "the Americans", it's because he's distinguishing a portion of some larger group that are Americans from other members of the group. Like one might say, "Britain, France, and the U.S. sent representatives to a meeting to discuss this issue. The British and French were in favor of the proposal, but the Americans were against it." Here, "the Americans" means that, of the people who were at the meeting, those who were Americans took this position. Similarly in this sentence for "the British" and "the French".

This is not limited to nationalities. If you were talking about a group containing both men and women, you might say, "The women wanted to ... but the men wanted ..." Etc.

On a different part of the question: "All" is generally not needed in a context like this. It can be used to clarify, if you are switching between talking about some subset and then talking about the whole group again. For example, suppose you took an opinion poll and broke out the results by party affiliation. You might say, "70% of Democrats believe that ... but only 30% of Republicans ..." Now suppose you want to talk about the Democrats, and then about people of all parties combined. You could say, "70% of Democrats believe that ... but 45% of Americans ..." But now it sounds like "Democrats" is the opposite of "Americans". (Maybe it's the opposite of "true Americans", but that's a different subject. :-) ) A reader might reasonably be confused, thinking perhaps you're talking about some group in another country that is called "Democrats", etc. They'd probably figure out what you meant, but if the terms were unfamiliar to the reader -- like if you were talking about factions in ancient Rome or something -- he might not be sure of your meaning. So it is more clear to write, "70% of Democrats believe that ... but 45% of all Americans ..."

  • 1
    I commented on Hellion's answer before reading this, so it amuses me that we both chose the same example. +1 for that. – Caleb Dec 5 '14 at 19:10
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    "The Americans are a hard-working people" refers to Americans in the context of all people in the world, and therefore is a subset. Note "Americans are hard-working people" is also correct, for the same reasons. – BobRodes Dec 5 '14 at 21:21
4

Both are correct in your example; the "the" is redundant and may be omitted.

Typically, "the" is used to clarify the meaning the word that follows it.

Replace "Americans" with "French" and the "the" becomes necessary, because "French" could be referring to the people or the language.

22% of the French... vs 22% of French.

22% of French doesn't really make sense, and would need further clarification such as 22% of French speakers.

  • 1
    True, but "American" by itself can refer to a group of people, while "French" cannot. That is, "American" can be an adjective or a noun, while "French" is only an adjective. You can say, "Two Americans entered the room", but you can't say, "Two French entered the room". You'd have to say, "Two French people ..." or some such. We sometimes use "the French", "the Germans", etc. as a noun. – Jay Dec 5 '14 at 18:07
  • @Jay Correct. Typically 'French' is only used as an adjective unless it's referring to the language. 'French people' or 'Frenchmen' are usually used for the noun form. – reirab Dec 5 '14 at 21:22

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