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

“Ads propelled radio and TV, why not education? There is a lot of misplaced snobbery in education about advertising,” says Mike Feerick, Alison’s founder.

Can the (a?) definite article be used here before "radio"? I've read that nouns denoting institutions of human society often take THE; my textbook mentions "the radio", "the press", etc.

  • You can use either radio or the radio in the given context. But one does not use the television in the same context. Therefore, radio and television is more appropriate to keep up with parallelism.
    – JayHook
    Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 14:14
  • Thanks, JayHook! Randolph Quirk's book (1985) on grammar mentions "the television" under "sporadic reference" (together with "the radio" etc) though.. Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 15:52

1 Answer 1


There is a subtle difference between using a, the, or no article in this sentence.

Ads propelled radio and TV, why not education?

When used without an article, radio and TV are understood to mean the entire field of communication by radio/television. That is, the entire industry of radio and television programs, along with the devices themselves and the people listening to them, were propelled by ads. The speaker means something similar with respect to the entire institution of education, so this makes sense here.

Ads propelled the radio and the television, why not education?

There is a subtle difference here when you use the radio and the television instead of the phrases without the article. Here you're talking about the physical device itself, the actual radio device an the actual television unit. So the implication is that ads spread the popularity of the device and resulted in more purchases of the devices. This doesn't parallel as well with education, which is an institution and not a device.

Ads propelled a radio and a television, why not education?

This is simply incorrect; a radio refers to one single radio device, and a television refers to a single television unit. Obviously the speaker doesn't mean that ads propelled a single radio and a single television in any way. So this would not be said.

  • Thanks, Wendi! P.S. I quote from The Cambridge Economic History of the United States (2000; GoogleBooks): "The spread of the radio and relevision also closed the gap between rural and urban life." -- Do I get it right: this usage won't combine with education because it leans towards the image of a radio\tv set but not of a business field; should we wish to compare\combine it with education, we need to elide the THE? Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 16:21
  • So I just semi-mechanically remembered the section about the "sporadic reference". Now I'm starting to see the difference. Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 16:30
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    @CopperKettle In the sentence you quoted I think the the is implied to refer to both radio and television, like it might in any list. ex. "There are strong winds coming from the North, South, East, and West." the is implied before each of the directions in the list, even though it's only written before the first. Now, I meant to say that the usage with the doesn't combine as well with education. You could use it and it would be understood just fine, but I think it's more likely to omit the the when referring to education because you're referring to an organization as a whole.
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 18:35
  • Alternate interpretation: you could say the applies to all four items in the list ( North South East West ), which is coordinated by and. That way you don't have to posit any deleted elements or implied relationships.
    – user230
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 0:04
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    You may enjoy reading about Wasow's generalization and factorable coordination here: stanford.edu/~zwicky/phonological-resolution.pdf
    – user230
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 0:12

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