middle class: a social class vs the social group

< Previous | Next >


Senior Member
Here are the definitions of "middle class" from two dictionaries:

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

middle class

the social class that includes people who are educated and work in professional jobs, for example teachers or managers

Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary
a social group that consists of well-educated people, such as doctors, lawyers, and teachers, who have good jobs and are neither very rich nor very poor

The upper middle class tend to go into business or the professions, becoming, for example, lawyers, doctors or accountants

I am a bit confused about the use of the article "the" here. Can I use "a social class" and "the social group" there?

I think the first use "the" because "class" have already been mentioned while "a" is used in the second as "group" is mentioned for the first time.
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In answer to your question: "No."

    I think that CALD is trying to avoid using the same word, i.e. "class", in the definition as it used in the phrase itself, whereas LDCE does not do this. LDCE is more accurate.

    A group is a collection (of people or things) in which the members share a common interest (social group) or share a common characteristic: all members collect stamps/ all members have one leg.

    But, in reference to society, a social class* (often shortened to class) is a distinct concept similar to the caste system in India - a position in the social order into which you are born or, in a few circumstances, move. It is not described as a group.

    As a BE speaker, I see a social class as being something other people, by their subjective perception, places you into, whereas a group can be voluntary or a subclass. I also see a class as being larger than a group.

    So a social class is a stratum of society defined by background, occupation, wealth, expectations, attitude, education, etc. But a social group is one that defines itself only by its interests.

    *the main social classes are upper and lower working class, upper and lower middle class, and upper class.


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Just on the articles themselves, either article can be used, regardless of what other words there are. The middle class is a class: it's one of the three social classes. The middle class is the class which includes . . . So a definition can be thought of introducing one among many ('a'), or specifying one by a following modifier ('the . . . which'). 'The' is perhaps better in this case because we know there are a definite number of classes, and the definition is picking out one of them, rather than merely saying it's one group from among many possible groups.
    < Previous | Next >