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The carpenter repaired the legs of the tables.

The carpenter repaired legs of the tables.

It's a quiz from my grammar book(written in Chinese), and it claims the legs of the tables is correct because of the tables modified legs which we should use the in that case. I'm not so sure, if a plural noun has a modifier then should we always use the? How about that:

Many good students will buy that book.

I think The many good students will buy that book. is definitely wrong....

So, could any one give me some hints about that? I'm just confused with in which case should we use "the" before a plural noun and which case not...

  • Many is not a noun in your example, so it would not have an article. – Catija Apr 4 '16 at 16:30
  • @Catija It' perfectly possible to use the before many, because *many is a post-determiner, as the many examples here will show ;-) – Araucaria Apr 7 '16 at 12:02
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As the definite article, "the" indicates an exact example of the noun it modifies.

Did you pet the dog?

Did you pet a dog?

In the first example, there is a specific dog that is the object. In the second, it could be any dog.

The carpenter repaired the legs of the tables.

The carpenter repaired legs of the tables.

This one is a little more tricky, but the same rule applies.

First, the tables means that there are a specific set of tables being discussed.

In the first sentence, the legs means that he/she repaired:

  • All of the legs of all of the tables
  • OR, all of the legs of all of the tables that required repair.

In the second sentence, this is ambiguous. The carpenter definitely repaired some of the legs. Because it is plural, they repaired more than one leg. However, whether it was all of the (repairable) legs or not, we cannot say.

Many good students will buy that book.

In this sentence, many operates as a determiner*. It describes good students. However, its meaning is ambiguous in the following areas:

  • Possibly, not all students are good students. Students who are not good are not considered - they may or may not buy the book, but are not part of the set the sentence is discussing.
  • Probably, not all good students will buy that book. Otherwise, the sentence would say "All good students will buy that book."
  • "Many good students" are not a specific set.

That said, if you intend the third meaning you could say "The many good students will buy that book." But this has a different meaning:

All of the [many [good students]] will buy that book.

In other words:

  • There are good students.
  • There are many good students.
  • All members of this set will buy the book.

* A determiner or quantifier (link courtesy of choster) is a word that describes a noun or noun clause, telling us whether it is specific or general. The definite article ("the") is a determiner, as are indefinite articles and many other words that describe the specificity of the noun.

  • 3
    +1 but rather than saying many functions as an article, which I think is confusing, you might introduce the concept of the determiner. – choster Apr 4 '16 at 17:30
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The carpenter repaired the legs of tables. - correct - tables in general, the specific legs of those tables

The carpenter repaired the legs of the tables. - correct - specific tables, so they must be specific legs

The carpenter repaired legs of tables. - correct - tables and legs in general

The carpenter repaired legs of the tables. - incorrect - specific tables, can't be legs in general

The correct sentences are not idiomatic though: the normal way of saying this would be:

The carpenter repaired the table legs.

Moving on to your second question:

The many good students will buy that book.

The expression the many can mean "the majority" or "the majority of", this is specific, so the sentence is grammatically correct. If you are using "many" to mean "more than a few", it's not specific, so "the" must not be added.

If you are being specific about a group, you can use "the": if you are making a general comment, you do not use it. Here is a general comment:

People can be very stupid.

Here are comments about your neighbours (specific),

The people next door can be very stupid

The neighbours can be very stupid.

  • I don't think "the majority" is a good definition for "the many". You couldn't say "The majority good students will buy that book". You would need the word "of". Adding that word, however, would not work if you used "the many". That is, "The many of good students will buy that book". – zondo Apr 4 '16 at 17:58
  • @zondo, did you check the link? there it says "the majority of". – JavaLatte Apr 4 '16 at 18:08
  • I didn't say anything about the link. I shouldn't need to click it just so that I can edit your answer in my own mind. You said The expression the many can mean "the majority". It isn't the link that I have a problem with; it's what you said. – zondo Apr 4 '16 at 18:10
  • @zondo: Updated. – JavaLatte Apr 4 '16 at 18:14

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