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From ChemGuide:

Molecules are made of fixed numbers of atoms joined together by covalent bonds, and can range from the very small (even down to single atoms, as in the noble gases) to the very large (as in polymers, proteins or even DNA).

Would it be okay to omit the definite article here:

Molecules are made of fixed numbers of atoms joined together by covalent bonds, and can range from the very small (even down to single atoms, as in noble gases) to the very large (as in polymers, proteins or even DNA).

After all, the author refers to noble gases generically; he then refers to proteins and polymers generically. Or is it better to use the because the noble gases is a well-defined, well-known, small group of elements?

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  • "Or is it better to use 'the' because the noble gases is a well-defined, well-known, small group of elements?"; yes that is correct.
    – user3169
    Dec 5, 2015 at 21:08

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As a chemist someone who studies chemistry a lot, if I were to write that sentence, I would have used zero article.

We originally know what noble gases are, so yes; this would be a generic mention of them, and that's a use case of zero article.

This n-gram suggests that since there's a difference between the frequency of the token "noble gases (All)" and "the noble gases (All)", the zero article version certainly exists, if is not more common.

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  • Thank you! But what if the Ngram search result for "noble gases" includes all the instances of "the noble gases", since the first line is merely a part of the second? There could be some other combinations, like "a noble gases factory". (0: Dec 5, 2015 at 20:47
  • Yes, Copper, it does. I'm not comparing the two diagrams. I'm comparing the first diagram and the difference between the two diagrams, which is more accurately any instances of "noble gases" that isn't "the noble gases" and that'd be "noble gases"; which has zero article.
    – M.A.R.
    Dec 5, 2015 at 20:49
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    @CopperKettle Well, it's certainly grammatical either way. If the difference does matter in your example, it's very subtle.
    – user230
    Dec 5, 2015 at 21:16
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    @Ϻ.Λ.Ʀ., Copperkettle MAR, your argument won't quite hold there, because the X noble gases will also be included in noble gases but not in the noble gases. Also other determiners might be being used too. So the other instances might be some noble gases, these noble gases, a few noble gases, three noble gases, three of the noble gases, many noble gases and so forth. Dec 6, 2015 at 16:17
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    No @Arau, I'm trying to imply that such usage exists. But yeah, I agree, I should bring up examples . . . after I took a nap.
    – M.A.R.
    Dec 6, 2015 at 16:35

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