Does omitting the article in "The phones ring every six minutes." make the sentence more abstract?

For example, if I were to speak about the phones in my workplace, I could say "The phones ring every six minutes." A sentence like "Phones ring every six minutes." seems like a sentence used by who is reporting statistics.
Similarly, if I were to say "The dogs bark at every car." I could be speaking of dogs I (have) heard. With "Dogs bark at every car." I could be generalizing something I saw, even if I am not actually hearing any barking dogs, nor have I heard barking dogs in the past weeks; I could also be generalizing something other people experienced.

2 Answers 2


Basically, "Yes". I think "abstract" is the wrong word here. Omitting the word "the" makes your sentence more general. As you say, you are then talking about all such objects rather than a particular set of such objects.

The dogs bark at strangers.

Some particular set of dogs bark at strangers.

Dogs bark at strangers.

All dogs bark at strangers.

In either case, qualifiers in the sentence or even the general context might limit the scope of objects that you are understood to be referring to.

In my office, phones ring every six minutes.

Now we're only talking about phones in your office. Adding "the" here would have little effect on the overall meaning.


Phones ringing is fairly concrete. I'd say the version with the suggests the ringing is of immediate concern to the speaker or writer - it's specific phones, your phone and those of the people you're working with, which are ringing and must be answered - while that without the the suggests that the ringing is in the background, somebody else's phones, which are part of the ambience.

But like everything in language, context is quite as determinative of meaning as the isolated sentence.

  • Yes, ringing is concrete, but when I statistically say that phones ring every six minutes, I am not saying something that really happens: It means that, in average, you hear a phone ring every six minutes. It is as saying that the average family has 2.5 children: Having a child is concrete, but no family has 2.5 children. :)
    – apaderno
    Apr 30, 2013 at 12:39
  • @kiamlaluno Different question: if you're asking about how to express the statistical statement, it should be "a phone (meaning some one of the phones) rings, on average, every six minutes", unless what you mean is that "every phone rings, on average, once every six minutes". Apr 30, 2013 at 13:11
  • I was trying to make clear what I mean by abstract. Phone ringing is concrete, but it is not if I am not referring to something that is actually happening.
    – apaderno
    Apr 30, 2013 at 13:15

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