As one of the rules of article usage, "the" is put before a noun or a noun phrase to indicate information known to the writer and the reader, so is "the" necessary to indicate old information or is it necessary only if you want to emphasize the topic you focus on?

To make my point clearer, I listed two examples ("the" in brackets):

  1. Love is everywhere. There are love between people, love of nature, and love of knowledge. Among these, (the) love between people is the most beautiful on the world.

  2. Gay marriage is still illegal in many countries, although people become more aware of the necessity and significance of its recognition. As we all know, gay or lesbian love is never a new topic. People who love each other deserve to be blessed, recognized by the society, and protected by law. There are campaigns, parades and festivals every year around the world to support these underprivileged. There are constant reports on tragedies of these people. Even so, (the) gay marriage is still strongly opposed by many countries.

I know there are many factors that influence the usage of articles: discourse information, literature knowledge, writing style. I searched the site, and there seem to be little cases representative of my confusion.

I look forward to your thoughts. Thanks!

  • This is an English as a second language question and is more appropriate for the English Language Learners site. Learning how to use articles is one of the hardest things to learn in any language, particularly for those who are coming from languages that don't employ articles. This site is for advanced questions of English grammar. Teaching a foreign language student about the article usage is not in the wheelhouse of this site. Such training, to be effective, must take into account your first language. I suggest migrating this to ELL. Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 16:59
  • Thanks. I notice there are many questions on article usage. I didn't see anyone of them is more advanced than mine, to be fair.
    – fearlessgreen
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 22:06
  • Perhaps questions about article usage are too advanced for this @BenjaminHarman to understand.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 1:20
  • 2
    Offtopic: Chancing upon your "there are love between people, ...", I found this question: “There Is”/“There are” depends on plurality of the first list element or not? Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 2:28

2 Answers 2


First of all, this oft-repeated "rule" makes no sense. An author cannot know for sure whether his readers already know about some topic. So a more nuanced statement (it is not a rule but a guideline, and an oversimplified guideline at that) is:

"the" is put before a noun or a noun phrase to indicate information that the writer assumes is known to the reader.

See the second sentence in the Wikipedia article on English articles, which is cast similarly to mine (Use of the definite article implies that the speaker assumes the listener knows the identity of the noun's referent (because it is obvious, because it is common knowledge, or because it was mentioned in the same sentence or an earlier sentence)).

However, even this guideline does not describe actual usage very well, and there are many times when English diverts from this "rule." For a fuller, if imperfect, discussion of this, see my answer to Are there any simple rules for choosing the definite vs. indefinite (vs. none) article?. In fact, the usage I describe in this answer does not correspond to this guideline.

As for your two sentences, note that both love and marriage are abstract nouns, which are often described as nouns that express things that we cannot touch, taste, see, hear, or smell. This is in contrast to concrete nouns such as dirt, smoke and noise, which are objects that one can taste, touch, see, hear, or smell. However, even as I write this, I am not sure this description precisely classifies such nouns as music. Certainly, we can talk about music in the abstract even though we can hear it. I guess music we can hear is a specific instance. The same can be said for language.

When an abstract noun is used as a general concept, we do not use the definite article.

Love is everywhere.
War is everywhere.
Sadness is everywhere.
Happiness is everywhere.
Marriage is everywhere.
Divorce is everywhere.
Language is everywhere.

(Note, of course, that concrete nouns can also be "everywhere": Dust is everywhere.)

When we want to talk about a specific instance of this abstract notion or concept, we use the definite article:

The love between people is the most beautiful in the world.

This contrasts with, say, the love between elephants, which is another specific instance of love.

Note that the use of the in both noun phrases, the love between people and the love between elephants is not determined by whether the author assumes his reader knows about such instances of love. Put another way, the definite article can be used to introduce new information. Additionally, the use of the is not determined by the fact that this is the second mention of love between people. One could finish this paragraph using the last sentence with the zero article, and it would conform to the usage described in this answer, namely that it would be a reference to love as a general concept.

Now let's look at the middle sentence of your example:

There are love between people, love of nature, and love of knowledge.

Here, there is no article before love. Or, many would say, there is the zero article before love. At any rate, all three examples here consider love as an abstract noun.

We could use the in each case, and thus give three specific instances of love:

There are the love between people, the love of nature, and the love of knowledge.

Note that love remains an abstract noun with the; it is just that with the, we are talking about three specific instances or cases or examples of it.

Moreover/furthermore (they mean the same), we can also use the indefinite article with abstract nouns; when we do, it means a type of or a kind of. This is similar to how we can use the indefinite article before mass nouns to talk about a kind of something, such as a kind of coffee or a type of cheese. So

There are a love between people, a love of nature, and a love of knowledge.

expresses three different types or kinds of love. So, with this sentence we have seen three different uses of an abstract noun, and the role that the article (definite, zero, or indefinite) plays in these uses.

Note that even though I have written (or typed) there are, I greatly prefer there is, especially in the example with the indefinite article. This is because the first item in each list is singular. See the accepted answer to the question “There Is”/“There are” depends on plurality of the first list element or not?, and thanks to CopperKettle for the comment.

Marriage is also an abstract noun.

Gay marriage is an abstract noun phrase. But it works pretty much the same way as marriage by itself.

Thus, your first sentence talks about gay marriage as a general concept. And this is why it is correct not to use the in your last sentence (which I have corrected by replacing 'against' with 'opposed'):

Even so, gay marriage is still strongly opposed by many countries.

This means that many countries still oppose the general concept of gay marriage.

The sentence

Even so, the gay marriage is still strongly opposed by many countries.

is an example of a specific instance of the general concept, and it might be talking about the gay marriage of two specific individuals, such as the gay marriage of Prime Minister Smith and Home Secretary Jones.

Hopefully this answer has explained the usage of the italicized noun phrase in the following sentence of yours:

As we all know, gay or lesbian love is never a new topic.

That this usage deviates from the "rule" or guideline which we started with cannot be more plain: The author takes for granted (i.e., assumes) that "we all know" something about gay and lesbian love, but this assumption does not mean that the author uses the. In fact, he deliberately does not use the because of the usage described in this answer.

  • 1
    I wonder if we can use the in the marriage sentence and read it the way we can with The tiger is in danger of becoming extinct. I'd like to link to this answer posted by John Lawler elsewhere: Re: A question about the generic use of articles and ask about your opinion, if you'd like to discuss it. Thank you in advance. Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 11:37
  • 1
    I'm not well versed on generic noun phrases (GNPs). I had never heard of them until two or three years ago, despite being a highly educated native speaker. All I can do is take sentences on a case by case basis. Thus note that The tiger at the Cincinnati Zoo is fed at noon is not generic. I am not sure if The tiger at the Cincinnati Zoo can ever be a GNP. This is the same as saying is there such a thing as the prototypical Cincinnati Zoo tiger? I don't know. @DamkerngT.
    – GoDucks
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 15:06
  • 1
    I just realized that marriage is uncountable (I overlooked it in my first comment and focused too much on the the; actually, I wouldn't use 'the' in the 'marriage' sentence myself either.). Perhaps we don't normally use the for generic uncountable nouns in English. Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 15:09
  • Of course tiger is a concrete noun and (gay) marriage is an abstract noun. I doubt The marriage is in danger of becoming obsolete is felicitous. I could say The traditional marriage is in danger of becoming obsolete. I find it difficult to think of the gay marriage as being capable of the same grammatical construction. The same applies to The Newtonian Physics or The Plane Geometry. @DamkerngT.
    – GoDucks
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 15:20
  • 1
    I suppose the following are felicitous: The traditional marriage is losing ground to the gay marriage and Many countries now support the gay marriage. Using the definite GNP is somewhat limited in usage, even with concrete count nouns. The plural GNP seems more common in many contexts, which seems to correspond to the abstract noun phrase with the zero-article. @DamkerngT.
    – GoDucks
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 15:49

The rule for "the" you quote, "to indicate information known to the writer and the reader", is not quite right. Rather, it means that the writer is conveying that he knows the information and that he wishes the reader to know it, as well.

In your first example, "the" is optional. If it is used, it means that the writer assumes that the reader accepts what was said in the preceding sentence about classifying love into three types. Thus, "the" is slightly presumptuous, as compared with its absence.

In the second example, "the" is ungrammatical. I'm not sure I can tell you exactly why. Perhaps it's because the countries who are against gay marriage would not necessarily accept what was said earlier in the paragraph about it.

  • I think your response is inspiring. I looked up Downing (2015) and found that definite “the” is introduced to refer to an entity which has been “mentioned” (p.376) in the discourse. That may explain why you think the second “the” is grammatically not correct but do not know the reason.
    – fearlessgreen
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 23:55
  • Your correction makes me reflect on my knowledge of the rule and may help me understand it precisely. Downing (2015) states “…given and new information, that is, what is taken by the speaker as known to the hearer (definiteness), and what is taken as not known (indefiniteness).” I guess you are right about the rule.
    – fearlessgreen
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 23:56
  • Downing (2015) also identifies discourse, situation and our general knowledge of the world as the standard of choosing articles to express definiteness and indefiniteness of the referents. Maybe what should be clarified in her book is the inclusion of acceptance of the topic by readers into the general knowledge of the world? This may also explain why you are sure about the first one?
    – fearlessgreen
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 23:56
  • If writer and reader agree about what the world is like, and the writer does not intend to mislead, perhaps you get Downing's account. But we can imagine many different worlds, and we don't necessarily assume that readers share our beliefs.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 1:11

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