5

The first and second chapters are....

Or

The first and the second chapters are...

Which is the correct usage? Is it correct to use the for both the phrases or not?? Please explain to me.

  • 2
    Native speakers would almost always "delete" the second article in your context. Note that the conjunction itself wouldn't normally be repeated if the "list" were longer. Thus it's The first, second and third chapters are good, not The first and the second and the third chapters are good. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 4 '16 at 12:53
  • 1
    It's not really a matter of "right". In some contexts a speaker might want to explicitly repeat many text elements which he could have deleted if he'd wanted to. I'm sure you can appreciate that if I refer to the first, or the second, or the third chapter... it sounds like a "longer" list than if I simply remove as many repeated elements as possible. There are always only three actual "things" in the list, but repeating those unnecessary text elements makes the whole list seem bigger and more impressive. It's a stylistic choice which wouldn't often be used unless you wanted the effect. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 4 '16 at 13:52
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    As J.R. points out in his answer, [repeated elements are often] omitted for the sake of brevity and conciseness. But remember that speakers / writers don't always strive for brevity and conciseness - there are many reasons why we might use more words than are necessary to carry the basic meaning required. Also note that reducing, say, We're going to the movies and we're going to have fun! to We're going to the movies and have fun! is "awkward" because we're going to has a different syntactic/semantic role in the second instance (so it's better to repeat it in full). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 4 '16 at 14:28
  • 1
    (I thought you might ask for clarification about that! :) In we're going to [some location], the highlighted verb carries its literal meaning (moving from one place to another), but in we're going to [do something] it's a more figurative usage that simply indicates we will do something. Thus if someone says I'm going to the toilet you won't be surprised when he gets up and heads for the lavatory, but if he says I'm going to sneeze you probably wouldn't expect him to leave the room and sneeze somewhere else. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 4 '16 at 15:05
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    This question makes me want to watch "The good, the bad, and the ugly" once again ... – Hagen von Eitzen Aug 4 '16 at 21:30
11

You can include it or omit it. Quite often, the article is omitted for the sake of brevity and conciseness.

Exceptions might include where a lot of adjectives are used in the list, or when it's a list of thinly-related items. In such cases, the sentence can read very awkwardly when the subsequent articles are omitted. For example:

When I went shopping, I wanted to buy a cool leather jacket, a gold chain necklace, or a new case for my iPhone – but I didn't have enough money for any of them.

My favorite sights at the parade were the ballet troupe's float, the man on the tall stilts, and the trick motorcycles.

Of those two, you could get away with leaving them out of the first sentence – it's simply a matter of style and taste, not grammar:

When I went shopping, I wanted to buy a cool leather jacket, gold chain necklace, or new case for my iPhone – but I didn't have enough money for any of them.

In your example, though, I'd leave the second "the" out:

The first and second chapters were my favorite part of the book.

7

I'd like to expand on J.R.'s answer. I agree with his answer for your example sentence, and it often is just a matter of style, but I think there are some objective considerations for the general case.

Plurality

Example:

  1. The quick and the brown foxes...
  2. The quick and brown foxes...

Most people would take sentence 1 to mean that there are two distinct sets of foxes: quick foxes, and brown foxes. But most people would interpret sentence 2 as one set of foxes which are both quick and brown. This may not be what you meant!

However, "first and second chapters" is fine, since we know a chapter cannot be first AND second in a book - obviously you must mean two chapters, one which is first and one which is second. In this case, whether or not to repeat the article is purely a stylistic choice.

Definite vs. Indefinite

In a similar vein, the definite article ("the") is used for a specific instance - say, if you wanted to buy "the gold chain", I'll know you're after the one you told me about earlier. If you wanted to buy "a gold chain", I know you're just headed to the gold chain store to pick out any old one you like.

Grouping things together under the same article will keep that implication of specific and non-specific.

Consider:

  1. A man, a plan, and a canal
  2. A man, plan, and canal

I'd interpret 3 and 4 the same way: we have three unrelated, non-specific entities. (Grouping them together under the same article might suggest these non-specific entities are related, but not very strongly. This could depend on what you're talking about, and if those nouns are normally related.)

  1. The man, the plan, and the canal
  2. The man, plan, and canal

These sound different to me: 5 is three unrelated but specific entities. You have a particular man, plan, and canal in mind, but they aren't necessarily related to each other. Sentence 6 is stronger: you're talking about a particular man-plan-canal group.

If you're a visual person, it might be worth noting the difference in sentence structure here. Example 1 looks like:

article    article
   |         |
adjective  adjective
      \    /
       noun

So you can imagine how example 2 just bunches it back up at the top. The adjectives were already modifying the same noun, so there's less difference than in examples 3-6, which look like:

article  article  article
  |        |        |
 noun     noun     noun

Here you can see that each article is modifying a different noun - you have to be a little more careful before combining them all up again.

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