I'm helping an ESL student from China, and she wrote a sentence like this (part of a larger essay):

"by having the awareness of the things that he did in dark"

Now when reading it I began to explain how she doesn't need the word "the" in front of "awareness" in this context, and assumed that was true for most nouns that were collective or something (I'm not sure what to call it, it just seems like to me "awareness" is a collective noun as you "have awareness" of things, not "an awareness" or "the awareness").

Then again, you can certainly say "I lacked the awareness of a simple explanation". What's the rigorous, grammatical difference between these two usages of the word "awareness"? Why does one require a "the" whereas the other doesn't, and swapping it sounds awkward?

Furthermore, she goes on to say "he did in dark". What explains why you need to say "in the dark" here? Is it the same logic as above, or does this have a different explanation?

  • Consider that "dark" in context means "dark (something)". Perhaps "dark room". Being a definite thing, use "the".
    – user3169
    Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 2:14
  • First that is not a sentence. And the use of articles is often very context specific, so it would be nice to actually have s complete sentence, and perhaps the one after and before it. On the other hand, many uses of articles are idiomatic. Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 5:48
  • Why you think "an awareness" is incorrect?
    – Cardinal
    Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 6:12
  • I believe it is because your awareness of something is binary - you have it or you don't.
    – whybird
    Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 6:12
  • BTW, use of the is idiomatic, varying from region to region. For example, in Britain, one goes "to hospital", in the U.S., "to the hospital". Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 15:43

2 Answers 2


Let's tackle your questions one at a time:

What's the grammatical difference between these two usages of the word "awareness?"

By including a definitive article (the) before awareness, the sentence describes a specific and clearly-defined awareness that the rest of the sentence should go on to identify; in this case, the awareness is specifically of the things that he did in [the] dark. This shifts what would essentially be a complex adjective clause (...of the things that he did in [the] dark) into a noun clause by "binding" it to the noun that it is describing (awareness of the things that he did in [the] dark).

Why does one require a "the" whereas the other doesn't, and swapping it sounds awkward?

By using the we are essentially pinning the description of the noun onto the noun itself. To reiterate the previous point, we're not just talking about any kind of awareness, we're talking specifically about awareness of the things that he did in [the] dark.

What explains why you need to say "in the dark" here?

Here the definite article is working in reverse. When used with some adjectives -- like dark or wild, for example -- the definite article instead transforms it into a noun. While dark is an adjective (With the sun down it's getting dark quickly...), the dark is a noun that describes itself (...and I really don't want to get stuck in the dark). Wild tigers live in the wild, not in captivity. Both the sky and the waters of the seas and oceans are blue (in color) and as such can be referred to as "the blue."

Wait, what about this "idiomatic use" of the that some people have commented on?

Idiomatic use can alter things a bit, but even then they still follow the basic rules. In DrMoishe Pippik's example, he illustrates a difference between British English and American English. The British "to hospital" is describing a general type of place, so it omits any article. One could easily include the article "a" and retain the same meaning (to a hospital).

On the other side of the (proverbial) pond, Americans generally use either "to a hospital", which has the same meaning as its British counterpart, or "to the hospital" which might be confusing if you're not familiar with the American tendency toward linguistic ellipsis. In this case, it is generally understood that the hospital in question to be the most appropriate one; commonly this is the closest one (when seconds can mean the difference between life and death, a longer trip can literally kill you), though it can also assume an associated hospital (a Mayo Clinic Ambulance brings people to Mayo Clinic), or one that's been determined in advance ("The baby is on its way, so we're headed to the hospital [that we elected to have the baby at]").


Simply put a noun is a naming word. There is a paradigm shift in the classification of nouns from one traditionally tought us during our childhood. Nouns are now divided into proper and common of which the latter is further classified into countable and noncountabe. Both countable and non countable nouns can be abstract or concrete.

We don't find any reason to classify AWARENESS as a collective noun. It is an abstract noun(sense eluding concepts). It can be plural in conext specific uses.

As a general rule abstact nouns are used without articles. But in the posted example THE is not unnecessary; at least it appears to me as such.

We make use of the definite article, THE to mean something particular or is made particular in the course of discussion.

  • By having "the" before 'awareness' we are only referring to the things that he did in dark, not the others relatively apparent. We must make it sure by THE.

By day/ at night/ in dark— these are idiomatic expressions. They don't have articles. But we must use 'the' in the example below:

  • He eloped with her taking advantage of the dark of the night.

With the application of "the" before adjectives we mean the entire race denoted by them; but that's a different issue.

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