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A quote from The Guardian:

The Bank of England, under its new governor Mark Carney, has promised that interest rates will stay at their record low level of 0.5% until the unemployment rate drops below 7%. Threadneedle Street's experts expect that will not happen until 2016; but upbeat news from the labour market will fuel fears in financial markets that rates will have to rise sooner than the Bank expects.

Why is there no definite article before interest rates and again before rates? Is it because with the definite article, interest rate would refer not to a metric or gauge, but to some implied specific figure, e.g. 8%, and interest rates would respectfully refer to a string of figures (8%, 9%...) ?

It is strange to see the third mention of rates without an article, because the word may point an all kinds of rates, there are a lot of metrics in economics.

The unemployment rate understandably takes THE, 'cause the head noun is singular.

What if we rewrite the paragraph using the singular form:

The Bank of England, under its new governor Mark Carney, has promised that the interest rate will stay at its record low level of 0.5% until the unemployment rate drops below 7%. Threadneedle Street's experts expect that will not happen until 2016; but upbeat news from the labour market will fuel fears in financial markets that the rate will have to rise sooner than the Bank expects.

Would this look OK to the native speaker?

  • It looks okay (syntactically), but I think the original reads better. If the inconsistency bothers you, I'd suggest rewording it by using unemployment rates in the plural. – J.R. Aug 15 '13 at 8:12
  • Inconsistency is OK, I'm just trying to train myself to pay attention to articles by pre-cutting them from a text and then trying to reinstate them in proper places; all with mixed success and much amazement as to the principles used by native speakers in their article usage choices. – CowperKettle Aug 15 '13 at 8:58
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    The basic "rules" about articles aren't always hard and fast, as you are learning. Why do little children sing "There were 10 in the bed" but "Rub-a-dub dub, three men in a tub"? Because, every once in a while, it really doesn't matter which article you use. It's largely based on context; in this case financial experts have their own linguistic quirks, much like other professions. – J.R. Aug 15 '13 at 9:35
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"the interest rate" would means there is just one interest rate, but the Bank of England maintains a number of interest rates. That said, the rest of that sentence indicates a value of 0.5% and as you suggest that would mean there is just one rate (or that all interest rates are set at 0.5%, which is most likely not the case).

So I would suggest that there is just one interest rate, but the reason is it given as a plural is that this interest rate applies to all the bank's customers. So maybe it means "the rates for all customers" in other words "the customers' rates", and again that's a plural rates not a singular, since each customer has a rate even though they are all 0.5%

I think I might have tied myself in knots here, but I think what I'm saying is the truth. As an Englishman and someone working in banking I know "rates" sounds correct, I've just never thought why it is so.

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    I'm no financial expert, but I believe there is a single interest rate (in the U.S., it's set by "the Fed", meaning the Federal Reserve). Other banks offer loans based on that rate, but not necessarily at that rate. It's an index of sorts; other interest rates fluctuate along with "the" interest rate. I agree that "rates" is commonly heard when it comes to financial news, possibly because these rates change over time, and possibly because so many of them are interrelated. – J.R. Aug 15 '13 at 8:16

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