Here are three instances regarding the usage of articles:

  1. From a poll on the Internet: "Should the owner of a shop be able to buy from or sell to their shop?"

  2. From Wikipedia: "Birds of prey, also known as raptors, hunt and feed on other animals."

  3. "Waves of radiation are called sine waves."

In 1, can the phrase "the owner of a shop" have the same reference as that of "owners of a shop"?

In 2, can the phrase "birds of prey" have the same reference as that of "the birds of prey"?

In 3, does the phrase "waves of radiation" have the same reference as that of "the waves of radiation"?

My answers are yes, no, yes. Am I right?

  • 2
    See John Lawler's work up. – user6951 Dec 10 '14 at 17:49

Should the owners of a shop be able to buy from or sell to their shop?

Should owners of a shop be able to buy from or sell to their shop?

In both of these, the noun is "owners".

Do we mean "any owners of a shop"? Then the second sentence is correct.

Do we mean a particular group of "owners of a shop" that we have mentioned earlier in conversation, or is directly observable by both parties in the conversation. Then the first sentence is correct.

From what I can tell, all three sentences aren't part of a conversation where the context required by "the" can be established. So unless these sentences are a caption of a picture, or similar, which makes the thing the sentence is talking about directly observable, "the" should not be used.

  • Thanks for the feedback! One question though: what about other phrases such as "the globalization of world politics" or "the business of medicine" that you can see on college textbooks? Are these also referring to referents in specific context? – user12652 Dec 10 '14 at 16:33
  • You can use "the" without a previous context if the noun refers to something like a well-known body of work or field of study. Generally, if something is recognized as such, there is only a single "one of it" from anyone's point of view, so "the" can be used. – LawrenceC Dec 10 '14 at 18:40

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