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Imagine the first sentence in a news report:

Scientists have discovered the evolutionary causes of allergy.

Could we write:

Scientists have discovered the evolutionary causes of the allergy.

According to the Longman Dictionary, allergy can be used as a count noun as well as a noncount noun, so by adding the we are creating a generic noun phrase, similar to this:

Scientists have discovered the evolutionary origins of the dog.

However, I feel that the allergy is not a good choice.

Maybe diseases are too "personalized" to fit in "definite generic" constructions?

P.S. I suspect that allergies might be wrong too. Am I right? Well, not that I feel it personally; I just remember a passage from Quirk et al.'s "Comprehensive Grammar" (Unit 5.52) where the plural noun phrase in "Nora has been studying medieval mystery plays" is indicated as not truly generic. I wonder if the plural might be okay here. The more I think about it, the more I get confused.

  • Without an article, "allergy" would mean "Allergic Reaction". " In Dr Johnson's intro class we studied allergy." With an article, "the allergy", most native speakers, unless there were strong contextual reason to think otherwise, would assume a specific allergy, e.g. allergy to peanuts, rather than "Allergies in General". This is the assumption because there are so many different kinds of allergies and allergic reaction, assumed by the lay public to have different mechanisms and thus they are not likely to be grouped under a single rubric. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 15 '15 at 15:06
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    You can always disambiguate (in writing, and possibly by tonal signals in speech): ".... the evolutionary causes of The Allergy") or you can reinforce the already clear meaning: "...the evolutionary causes of Allergy". IMO, zero article is best here, with uppercase. While plural can be taken to mean "allergies in general" it could be taken to mean "several of the many allergies". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 15 '15 at 15:16
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I would expect allergies.

I understand allergies as way too diverse than being a mass noun in this use (allergy season or similar, yes).

What I'd expect if a mass noun is desired and especially in a scientific context:

allergic response or allergic reaction

describing the complex physiolocical reactions that constitute an allergy.

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  • I don't understand why alllergy could not be used. The dictionary says it could be used in a noncount sense, so why not use it as a standalone word? Is it because its noncount sense is used predominantly in sentences like "I have allergy to cats" -- that is, with a complement to allergy? Thank you for allergic response/reaction, a good idea. And the allergy is a no-no for you too? – CowperKettle Dec 15 '15 at 7:51
  • You could say "I am allergic", btw. – Stephie Dec 15 '15 at 7:54
  • Yes, I could, but I'm investigating the form allergy and generic use of articles. (0: Quirk et al. write that "Nora has been studying medieval mystery plays" would not be truly generic, since it would indicate the possibility that she has been studying only a subset of them. I wonder whether the same consideration applies with allergies. Maybe the scientists have discovered the causes of only a subset of allergies.. – CowperKettle Dec 15 '15 at 7:54
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    Well, you have a fever, a headache and an allergy if you are personally afflicted. If you talk about the general ailment, it's a mass noun (causes of fever). But it sounds wrong with allergy, perhaps because fever is a single symptom and an allergy consists of multiple symptoms? But the latter is pure speculation. – Stephie Dec 15 '15 at 8:02
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    @CopperKettle - 'Is it because its noncount sense is used predominantly in sentences like "I have allergy to cats"?' I have allergy to cats sounds strange and incorrect to this native speaker. "An allergy to cats" sounds better, because this is an example of the general case of allergies. – stangdon Dec 15 '15 at 17:23

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