7 THE with groups of things and people
We already know that the can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns, and that the can also be used with a group of things, a set of things, usually made up of the same thing.
But when we talk about things in general, we do not use the:
Dentists do an important job. (not the dentists)
Cats make me sneeze. (not the cats)
I collect coins from all over the world.
I didn’t enjoy history at school.
We do use the when we talk about particular, or specific groups of things or people. To demonstrate this, we will compare the above examples with specific examples:
Dentists do an important job. (dentists in general); the dentists in my town all do a good job (The particular dentists in my town, not dentists in general)
Cats make me sneeze. (cats in general); I can’t go to Fred’s house because the cats there make me sneeze. (the cats at Fred’s house, not cats in general)
I collect coins from all over the world. The coins in my collection are very rare.
I didn’t enjoy history at school. Learning all about the history of languages was particularly boring.
However, even certain groups which could be considered as specific could be talked about in general terms, that is, without using the:
Dentists from the United States are very well paid. (This is not all dentists, but dentists from the USA is still a general idea.)
Cats from animal shelters make very good pets. (not all cats, but cats from animal shelters is still a general idea.)
Coins from the communist period are very interesting.
Did you enjoy studying European history?
k) A QUICK CHECK (15 minutes)
Put in the or zero article in the following sentences.
1. I like _____ apples.
2. I’m just going to _____ shops. I’ll see you later.
3. ______ shops can be very expensive at Christmas.
4. _____ women are better drivers than men.
5. You should talk to _____ women in my office. They know more than you think.
6. It’s a good hospital. _____ doctors there really care for their patients.
7. I’m scared of _____ geese.
8. ______ tea they serve at the local café is very weak!
1. I like (Ø zero article) apples. (apples in general)
2. I’m just going to the shops. I’ll see you later. (Specific shops that I am going to, the shops that you and I know about, NOT shops in general)
3. The/Ø shops can be very expensive at Christmas. (This depends on context: the speaker could be talking about shops in general, or a particular group of shops)
4. Ø Women are better drivers than men. (women in general, NOT a specific group of women)
5. You should talk to the women in my office. They know more than you think. (The women who specifically work in my office, NOT all women)
6. It’s a good hospital. The doctors there really care for their patients. (Doctors that work at the hospital the speaker is talking about, NOT all doctors)
7. I’m scared of Ø geese. (Geese in general, NOT specific geese)
8. The tea they serve at the local café is very weak! (Tea specifically served at the local café, NOT tea in general)
As before, you may want to stop and look at all these notes again at this point: you may well be surprised as to how much information there is. Then click NEXT.