In my grammar book it is written that the definite article is used before the armed forces. For example: the police, the army.

The book also explained it by giving examples such as:

  1. I think you should call the police.
  2. The police are investigating fraud allegations against him.

But in the newspaper, I see some lines such as:

  1. Police say the accused illegally exported beef.
  2. Police have arrested three persons.

Could you explain why these variations are seen?

  • 1
    Newspapers don't use grammatically correct English. – Andy Gould Apr 11 '16 at 13:16
  • 1
    Your grammar does not cover newspaper style. – rogermue Apr 11 '16 at 13:52
  • 2
    @AndyGould - I don't think it's correct to say "Newspapers don't use grammatically correct English"; headlinese doesn't adhere to standard grammar rules, but the OP doesn't say this is a headline. Body text of newspaper articles is usually fairly standard English. – stangdon Apr 11 '16 at 14:35
  • @stangdon Depends on the newspaper you read to be fair. I assumed from the example sentences the OP was talking about headlines. – Andy Gould Apr 11 '16 at 14:38
  • @ColleenV: the accepted answer to that question seems to lose the plot, but the second answer (Collin Day) comes to the same conclusion as FumbleFingers', but from a different perspective. It's a pity that we can't merge the two questions. – JavaLatte Apr 11 '16 at 20:10

1: I saw a suspicious-looking man hiding in the bushes in the park, so I called the police.
From Google Books, I called the police then:472 hits; I called police then:1 hit
(included "then" to ensure I only matched contexts where the preceding clause was "complete").

2: Acting on my tip-off, the police arrested him.
yesterday the police arrested:324 hits; yesterday police arrested:85 hits
(included "yesterday" for the same reason)

You can see from the above that police are normally referenced using the definite article, but this tendency is far less pronounced in the second context. This is because in the first example, the police represents the entire organisation/service, collectively (a specific known thing, which merits an article) - but in the second example, you could reasonably say it references some individual police officers.

EDIT: More than likely this question will be closed as a duplicate. But I still think it's worth including here @anaximander's comment on the "original" page...

"Police" doesn't change for the plural, like "sheep". So, saying "police said" is like saying "teachers said" - it refers to a number of police, rather than the police, which refers to the organisation. What makes it confusing is the omitted words - in the first, it's "police officers said", while the second is "the police force said".


In English, the definite article the is used to refer to specific instances of something. For example, in the phrase "the armed forces of Brazil", we use the because we are referring to specific armed forces. In "call the police", we use the because we're referring specifically to the local police that we want to call.

When we want to refer to a plural noun in general, we don't use an article. (This is sometimes called the zero article.) For example,

Rabbits got into my garden and ate all my lettuce.

We don't use an article here because we are referring to a general number of nonspecific rabbits. But we would say

Mr. Jones, the rabbits that you bought last week got into my garden and ate all my lettuce.

because here we are referring to specific rabbits - the ones that Mr. Jones bought last week.

In the case of your newspaper article, it would not be grammatically wrong to say

The police are investigating

if we are referring to specific, known police. But if we want to refer to police in general, we don't use the article. In English, it's very common to not use the article when we're referring to something as an institution, like courts or police.

Helpful links:
When to Use Articles Before Nouns
Using Articles
Zero Article in English Grammar

  • 1
    RE: It would not be wrong to say "The police are investigating" if we are referring to specific, known police - It would also not be wrong to say "The police" when you mean "The police department" or "Some police officers." These don't need to be "specific, known" police. For example: Fairfax Media revealed last week that the police were investigating whether the payment by Tabcorp breached Australia's foreign bribery laws (Source: Syndey Morning Herald). – J.R. Apr 11 '16 at 20:33

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