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When we say this way:

"The workers are lazy", then we are telling that all workers of the company are lazy.

But what happens when one says this (in the examples I assume that I mention the workers for the first time) :

1) "If the workers of the company are lazy, what can you do about it?"

2) "If the workers of the company want to ask for help, who should they address?"

Can the sentences 1 and 2 connote any workers, not all of them?

So, I do not say that if "all the workers are lazy", I say "any of the workers are lazy". And not "all the workers want help, but "any of the workers". Yes, they are specific workers, so "the workers" can be used, but does it specify here about how many of them I mean in a relevant situation?

This is very confusing to me. I can show you the example that seemed very suspicious to my mind:

"If the users of this device do not follow safety recommendations, they..."

I am sure that it can't only mean "all the users at a time" or something like that, but the usage of the + noun (pl) seems confusing here to me since "the + noun" means "all the" - this is what I learnt.

Can someone clarify the matter, please? Thank you in advance.

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When "the" is used with a plural, it is referring to some specific group.

If you say "the plus plural" with no introduction or context that limits it, it would normally be understood to mean all the members of the referenced group.

"Now let us examine moral issues. If the workers of the company are lazy ..." This would be understood to mean all the workers of the company under discussion. (Depending on the context, "company" might be a hypothetical "any company", or it could refer to a specific company.) The use of "of the company" also leads the reader to understand that you mean all the workers at this company.

"Many companies have difficulty with the work ethic of members of the younger generation. If the workers are lazy ..." Here the reader would generally assume that "the workers" refers back to the people introduced in the previous sentence, namely, those workers who are members of the younger generation.

If you wanted to refer to only some workers, you could simply drop the word "the". "If workers at the company are lazy ..." That could mean some or all. If you wanted to be clear that you mean only some, you could add qualifying words. "If some of the workers ..." or "If any of the workers ..."

In the example, "If the users of this device do not follow safety recommendations ...", I would consider that poorly worded because it implies that all the users are doing the same thing, either they all do follow safety recommendations or they all don't. If you simply dropped the "the" the problem goes away: "If users of this device do not ..." Personally, I'd be more likely to bring it down to the individual user, "If a user of this device does not ..."

  • Jay, thanks for replying! I'd like to clarify something if you don't mind :) Your example "...the work ethic of members..." might relate to what I want to ask I think. If one says something like: "I hate lazy workers. The workers are annoying" - can "the workers" refer to any lazy workers at any time - present, future lazy workers etc (rather then any at the moment of speaking) ? Saying simply "Workers" makes it vague, and instead of adjective I use the definite article. The point is - can the definite article refer to introduced general concepts and not a current limited set? – Nikolay Komolov Jan 8 '15 at 17:33
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    In general, putting "the" in front of a plural identifies it as referring to some specific group identified by the context. The example you give, "I hate lazy workers. The workers ..." is a little odd. I think most readers would interpret "the workers" here to refer to the "lazy workers" introduced in the previous sentence. Most fluent speakers would probably say, "These workers are ..." or "Workers like this are ..." But I can't nail down a grammatical reason why it's wrong. Maybe someone else can chime in here. – Jay Jan 8 '15 at 20:44
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"If the users of this device do not follow safety recommendations, they..."

This means 'for any user' 'if they don't ..', i.e., any user in the future, and here used as a colective noun.

To define subsets of workers/users etc, one would modify workers/users, e.g., 'a few of the workers', 'some of the workers', 'most of the workers', otherwise 'workers' standing alone means all of them collectively.

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It depends. all means all of them and all means a group of... as well!

For instance,

All the members of the club have to wear a red tee when they come to the party.

This talks about all the members who come to the party leaving none.

On the other hand, if you are standing at a bus stop and see 10 employees of some companies, you may call them 'all'.

They all are the employees of 'X' company.

Here, all are everyone from that group. But not all 300 employees of 'X'.

Getting back to your example:

"If the workers of the company are lazy, what can you do about it?"

may mean that you are talking about some workers who are lazy or all.

The sentence in concern:

"If the users of this device do not follow safety recommendations, they..."

talks about any user who uses the device. But collectively, 'all users'

When we refer to safety, we use such construction and we do mean anyone (means, of course, all) who uses the device. Do you see 'the' users there? It means all the users who use that particular device/app.

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