A quote from The Economist (Higher education: The attack of the MOOCs):

“Anyone who thinks the rules of engagement have already been written by the existing players is massively underestimating the potential of the technology,” he says.

May the definite article be omitted before "existing players", or is the word "existing" a modifier that makes THE obligatory?

1 Answer 1


The presence of existing before players has no bearing on whether or not to use the article.

... the rules of engagement have already been written by the existing players ...

implies that the rules have been written by all of the existing players.

On the other hand:

... the rules of engagement have already been written by existing players ...

tells the reader only that existing players have written the rules, but not necessarily all existing players.

  • Thanks, Shoe! Would the second sentence imply that the rules are written by existing players in general, with some not participating but giving their tacit agreement and complying with the rules? Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 7:10
  • IMHO, all players rarely participate in writing rules, many passively accept those written by some group, that's why I'm unsure why the author has chosen to use THE. Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 7:23
  • The first part of your assumption is correct, but I don't think you can go beyond that to infer tacit approval of all existing players. Similarly, if I read: This website has been made by current students, I can infer only that some current students participated in the project. I cannot assume anything beyond this.
    – Shoe
    Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 7:26
  • In reply to your second comment, it is indeed confusing for the writer to use the definite article unless he or she was referring to a distinct subset of existing players already identified or known to the reader.
    – Shoe
    Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 7:28
  • 1
    @CopperKettle I'm fairly certain the author does intend to refer to all the existing players. I agree it is unlikely that every player had a hand in writing the rules, but that's not the point: the author is making a distinction between all the currently existing players, who he thinks do not have a monopoly on the writing of the rules, and the newcomers who haven't yet come to the technology. I'd have used the article as well.
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 15:07

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