Am I overusing "the" in this sentence?


For some reason I feel its overkilling on the use of article(the) here,

To refine the results, please use the categories on the left

Can someone help?


Posted 2015-12-01T15:25:37.727

Reputation: 223

3In my opinion, the phrases: (1) 'the results' refers to the specific results that will be refined; (2) 'the categories', refers to the specific (provided) categories; and, (3), 'the left' refers to the specific side (i.e., not the right side, not the top, etc.). So, I don't think the word 'the' is overused. – shin – 2015-12-01T15:33:16.910

1You can add it as the answer. – uday – 2015-12-01T15:42:23.120

6As a native speaker, leaving out any of the three "the"s would sound wrong. – Todd Wilcox – 2015-12-01T17:14:52.207

7Did you know that the most common word in the English Language is "the"? It's such a common word, that even stating that it is the most common word, requires several uses of the word "the", which I think is hilarious. – James – 2015-12-01T18:35:35.803

5As a native speaker, "the" disappears completely into the background for me. I don't know your native language to draw a comparison. On a quick read through I didn't even acknowledge the second two to the point that I thought, "One 'the' is hardly overkill." – Azor Ahai -- he him – 2015-12-01T21:04:34.820

2It is fine. The is not a content word, and as others have said, native speakers are so used to reading the that we don't take much notice of it when used correctly. The frequency may be high in your sentence, but it is used correctly. – None – 2015-12-01T21:07:45.543

1As a native speaker I concur with the rest of the comments: Your sentence is perfectly well-formed. @PressTilty Languages that are more information-dense than English, such as the Ukrainian that I know, often omit particles such as "the". They are frequently implicit, or encoded in declensions of the nouns and verbs. A common mistake by my English-learning Ukrainian contacts is to leave out articles such as "the" everywhere except where one would be present in the original Ukrainian sentence; the result is a somewhat distinctive style of writing and speaking. – Iwillnotexist Idonotexist – 2015-12-02T04:43:06.737

@IwillnotexistIdonotexist I meant to draw comparisons between similar function words in his language. For example, el libro del profesor del amigo de mi hijo has de three times over, but a Spanish speaker wouldn't notice at all. Also, information-dense is not a good descriptor. Do you mean Ukranian is polysynthetic? – Azor Ahai -- he him – 2015-12-02T05:08:18.117

1@PressTilty Not quite. In Ukrainian the sentence fragment you proposed would go Книга професора приятеля мого сина, word-for-word translatable as Book professor's friend's of my son. There is no initial "the", it being unnecessary, and the -a/-я ending of професора and приятеля is the genitive declension (належний відмінок) of those words. It essentially encodes the possessives "of my" or "of the" within the word to which they refer. – Iwillnotexist Idonotexist – 2015-12-02T05:44:55.040

And if it was "a friend's"? – Azor Ahai -- he him – 2015-12-02T05:52:37.600

1Suggestion: "To refine your results, please use the categories to the left." – Ben – 2015-12-02T14:31:31.137



In my opinion, the phrases:

  1. 'the results' - refers to the specific results that will be refined;
  2. 'the categories', - refers to the specific (provided) categories; and,
  3. 'the left' - refers to the specific side (i.e., not the right side, not the top, etc.).

So, I don't think the word 'the' is overused.


Posted 2015-12-01T15:25:37.727

Reputation: 5 448


As others have said, your sentence is fine, as-is.

However, you might change it to "To refine your results, please use the categories on the left."

This would mitigate your concerns with the repeated "the".

Chris Goldman

Posted 2015-12-01T15:25:37.727

Reputation: 71

Was thinking the same thing. Even though the original sentence is correct, this could alleviate the thought of too many "the"s in the sentence. – Tim S. – 2015-12-01T23:44:52.667


As a native speaker, I can definitely say 'the' is not overused in this sentence. The is one of the most common words in the English language, so often in fact you might use the word 'the' over 5,000 times in one day.


Posted 2015-12-01T15:25:37.727

Reputation: 51


When I read this answer, I couldn't help but think of the Knights who say Ni, and their aversion to the word "it".

– Tim S. – 2015-12-01T23:46:24.360


@shin is correct, the sentence is fine. To refine results, please use categories on the left. is equivalent, but the difference is stylistic.


Posted 2015-12-01T15:25:37.727

Reputation: 63 575

what do you mean by "stylistic"? – uday – 2015-12-01T15:43:03.677

@uDaY: purely focussing on the way the sentence looks, not changing its grammar nor its meaning. – Michael – 2015-12-01T15:47:01.073

Note that if the sentence was, say, To refine query, please use categories on the left it wouldn't sound nearly as good. I would leave in the even with results. So.. To refine the results please use the categories on the left. Also, leaving out the before categories also sounds off. – Insane – 2015-12-01T15:49:57.013

Indeed, I was just showing an example with the minimum use of the – Peter – 2015-12-01T15:51:44.407

Cool thanks for the help, I was thinking the same way of minimizing the usage of "the" but wanted to know if it was overused in the first place. upvoted it! :) – uday – 2015-12-01T15:52:35.543

2It's really difficult to overkill the use of "the", minimal worry for sounding non-native – Peter – 2015-12-01T16:02:44.380


I would call this answer an abbreviated sentence, the kind one often finds in newspaper headlines, or instances where space is at a premium, such as signs or instructions on a computer screen. Without the normal English grammatical features, it can lead to ambiguous sentences. Technically the answer could be interpreted to refer to any set of results and some generic set of categories in an unspecified 'leftish' place. Additionally these terse sentences can lead to silly interpretations of newspaper headlines, such as some listed here:

– user151841 – 2015-12-01T17:19:55.047

Agreed. "To refine results" could suggest results in general. "To refine the results" is more clearly indicating the current set of results. It might not actually be problematic in this case, but the meaning can differ significantly. – joeytwiddle – 2015-12-01T18:58:03.193


@shin is correct. "The" is used three times in the sentence. Each time "the" is used, the word that follows "the" gets qualified, becomes specific. The sentence is ok. There is no overuse of "the".

Dinesh Kumar Garg

Posted 2015-12-01T15:25:37.727

Reputation: 408


Being strict, it depends on context.

If this message is an instruction provided before any results have been presented, then "the results" doesn't quite make sense because "the" is the definite article. That means "the results" refers to a specific set of results. Which specific results? If results don't already exist, it's not clear. I'll likely assume you're talking about "the results [of the next search]". I'd be right, so you'd still be communicating successfully, but it's not ideal.

On the other hand, if the message doesn't appear until after a search is performed and some results (especially a large number of them) are presented, it would work perfectly because "the results" refers to a specific set of results that exist in context.


Posted 2015-12-01T15:25:37.727

Reputation: 897


Technically, the sentence is correct but the is overused. I would rearrange the sentence to say "Refine results using the categories on the left". It removes a couple of words and also makes it a more active sentence. Also when writing instructions, avoid using please. These are instructions for performing a task and not a request so the word please is not necessary.


Posted 2015-12-01T15:25:37.727

Reputation: 1