(The) readers of a magazine?



Q1: Are these two phrases acceptable, if so, is there any, subtle or explicit, difference in meaning or emphasis between them?

1) The readers of a magazine

2) Readers of a magazine

In Swan's Practical English Usage, it is said that the is usually used in 'half-general' ideas when followed by a defining, limiting (restrictive) phrase, especially one with of e.g. the music of the 1960s.

I wonder if a magazine is specific enough for us to consider it a defining phrase i.e. it tells us that it's not just any readers who read any kind of book but just the readers who read the same magazine (but it doesn't matter which particular magazine it is)

Similar cases include:

Tickets to a concert

The tickets to a concert

(Not just tickets to any concert but the tickets that are for the same concert. The speaker just doesn't care which concert.)

Please note that here I mean to talk about the use of "the" with half-general ideas, i.e. to check whether a magazine is specific enough to make "the" needed.

Q2: If I first introduced this group of readers, with either 1) or 2), can I use the readers to refer to them afterwards?


Posted 2014-04-06T09:22:57.880


As another learner, I would use The readers of a magazine only when I wanted to use it in contrast to other kinds of readers (e.g. "the readers of the book previously mentioned"), otherwise I would simply use Readers of a magazine. The reason behind this is that I need to be able to visualize "which" readers first, before I could use "the". – Damkerng T. – 2014-04-06T09:34:33.183

Your 'comparison' case, IMHO, is probably another use of the: to view members of a group as a whole, not individuals. In my original question, however, I meant to emphasise the use of the for (half-)general ideas. – None – 2014-04-06T09:54:21.023

I'm not sure about the "half-general ideas". Trying to view members of a group as individuals, I came up with this sentence: Catalog means a set of cards that describes the books in a library and their location. – Damkerng T. – 2014-04-06T10:20:32.913

@DamkerngT. - The readers of a magazine may sound a bit odd, but not if we use the title of the magazine, as in: "The readers of The Economist keep current in world events," or, "The readers of Forbes tend to learn about market trends first." – J.R. – 2014-04-07T00:37:35.567



Are these two phrases acceptable, if so, is there any, subtle or explicit, difference in meaning or emphasis between them?

1) The readers of a magazine

2) Readers of a magazine

Are they both acceptable? Yes!

Are there any differences? We can't really answer that!

Why? I don't ever say:

Readers of a magazine


The readers of a magazine

because I don't start talking about random, mundane objects, and trail off before I'm done completing my thought.

Let me explain one reason why this may be confusing you: because you are thinking in fragments, instead of in complete sentences.

This is why, over and over again, you are being told things like, "You don't use the unless you are speaking about something previously mentioned." (Yes, that's one reason to use the, but it is not the only reason to use the.)

The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript
Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.

This is the first line of a poem by T.S. Eliot. The first line! Clearly, no readers have been "previously mentioned." Why, then, did Eliot not say:

Readers of the Boston Evening Transcript
Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.

He could have. The stanza would essentially mean the same thing. Perhaps he thought the poem read better with an extra syllable. Perhaps he thought the inclusion of the word "the" put all those readers into a more clearly-defined group.

Here's my recommendation: If you have trouble picking up a subtle difference in meaning, or a slight shift in emphasis, then it's probably not worth fretting over. Here are a few examples (the ones in italics merely echo the other, with the inclusion of a "the"):

In New York, riders on the subway rarely look at each other.
In New York, the riders on the subway rarely look at each other.

Guards at Buckingham palace rarely smile.
The guards at Buckingham palace rarely smile.

Readers of magazines are more likely to get paper cuts than people who use e-readers such as iPads or Kindles.
The readers of magazines are more likely to get paper cuts than the people who use e-readers such as iPads or Kindles.

No matter which way you say those sentences, these same images pop into my mind:

enter image description here

As a footnote, I don't mean for this to sound like a rant directed at you. It isn't. Clearly, you have put a lot of thought into this issue, and that's commendable. In fact, I've upvoted your question, because it was put together thoughtfully. I think it's an exemplary ELL question. In an earlier comment, though, you started to wonder if you were overcomplicating things. I think one of the reasons you're finding this hard to analyze is that you are thinking in terms of snippets. Quite often, a short snippet does not provide enough information to determine whether an article should be included or omitted – or if it even matters at all.


Posted 2014-04-06T09:22:57.880

Reputation: 108 123


Articles are always tricky and confusing. I had read somewhere that even scholars make mistakes putting articles at proper place! So, don't worry, we are not the only ones!

I also read Swan's. It's a good book and I remember the portion of the music of 1960s.

Anyway, I'm a non-native speaker and find it difficult to identify where to put articles and where to not. However, in another reputed book of grammar and punctuation, I read that fortunately a sentence without articles is fine and generally understood but if we learn it perfectly, it's good for us. Here, I'm trying to give the answer that I think and follow.

The definite articles have myriad of rules and with practice only we can identify where to put them and where to omit.

Now, your case.

The readers of a magazine

The moment you put the in front of readers, it'll specifically talk about the readers, identified readers of some magazine (because or else it could have been *the readers of the magazine).

On the other hand,

Readers of a magazine

Both are unknown. Some readers of some magazine.

Let me build an example. The magazine's name is ELL and ELU. Some readers (ELL) are wearing 'blue' tee, some (ELU) are 'red' and others (No choice) 'green'.

In the big hall, the readers of the magazine (ELL) were at the left side of the stage. This surely means that the readers in blue-tee are the readers of ELL and were on the left side of the stage. Same will go with the readers of the magazine (ELU)...on the right...


In the big hall, the readers of a magazine were having fun talking with each other. This means the readers in blue, red and green tee were talking to each other and were having fun. Because here the means those who are in the hall but then a magazine is any magazine. On the other hand The readers of the magazineS were enjoying with each other - all the readers of both the magazines were enjoying with each other.

In another case,

The readers were not interested in any of those magazines - certainly, which readers? I'm talking about the readers in green tee. The identified them as they are the special group of people in green-tee, not interested in ELL or ELU.


Readers in the city were too enthusiastic to attend the function at the big hall.

We are talking about readers in general. Mind it, they are neither those blue, red or green ones or anyone in the hall. They were the readers in general who could not attend the function.

The same can go with your concert example.

Note: There are many possibilities to come up with the example of the hall. We shall explore as we discuss on this.

This is strictly my opinions and let others come with their stance. Again, what I said should not be considered as a concrete rule as articles are always a big trap (at least to me!).

Note: Follow Damkerng's comment. That's the general use. When something is previously introduced, it'll take the definite article. I found a herb in a garden, the herb was green.

Maulik V

Posted 2014-04-06T09:22:57.880

Reputation: 66 188

So your go is that we should just use no article, even if they are readers of the same magazine (that we don't care which magazine it is, so we use 'a magazine'), correct? – None – 2014-04-06T10:07:59.890

True. In case you are talking about the city's readers (in general), it's okay to omit the article the. However, it's possible to say The readers in the city -which'll again make both the nouns specific, the readers of that particular city! Trust me, it's tricky. – Maulik V – 2014-04-06T10:10:45.140