I am wondering when we should use "the" after a possessive construction with "of"?

Is this necessary to use/avoid "the" before a possessive construction with "of"?

For example, consider:

  1. the observation of the instability

  2. the observation of an instability

  3. an observation of the instability

  4. an observation of an instability

  5. observations of instabilities

  6. the observations of instabilities

  7. the observations of the instabilities

which one is intrinsically incorrect?

Thanks in advance.

  • You mean something like this: "It is the bone of the dog" Instead of "It is the bone of dog"? Can you give some examples?
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 17:56
  • We need more context to justify answering, but @Catija's suggestion could perhaps be brought into focus by comparing, say, Racing is the sport of kings with Religion is the opiate of the people. Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 18:06
  • Thanks @FumbleFingers I was struggling. The only thing I could think of was "It is the order of the court that..."
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 18:07
  • @Catija: They may not be good examples, since without clarification, we're just guessing what exactly OP is asking about. And let's not forget both my examples are fixed, idiomatically established "sayings", which may not reflect any underlying principles applicable to other contexts. Another potentially relevant contrastable pair might by I've booked my holiday for the beginning of [the] summer. Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 18:20
  • @FumbleFingers I think the problem is that the use of the "of" possessive can seem clunky when used in cases it's not a set phrase. Saying "the summer's beginning" sounds odd... as much as saying "the bone of the dog" instead of "the dog's bone". I'm sure there are cases where they are largely interchangeable but I can't think of one at the moment.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 18:35

1 Answer 1


All seven are fine, depending on the context. See your favorite textbook about the use of the definite article.

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