(the) alignment of text

TheGist

Senior Member
Russian
The phrase goes "in this video we'll cover (the) alignment of text".

Do I need to use the definite article or not? Or is it optional?

I understand that it can be difficult to explain the usage of the articles, but any explanation will be very appreciated.
 
  • EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Alignment is an uncountable noun, and the definite article is therefore not needed. But depending on context it may be somewhat more correct to have one. I would probably not use an article in your sentence.
     

    TheGist

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Alignment is an uncountable noun, and the definite article is therefore not needed.
    What is the connection between uncountable nouns and the definite article? (It's the indefinite articles that are not often used with uncountable nouns)
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    The connection is that uncountable nouns do not need determiners, of which the definite article is one. They are not used with the indefinite article at all. (Note that alignment is also a countable noun - but not in your example. Cf. Longman English Dictionary.)
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    The phrase goes "in this video we'll cover (the) alignment of text".

    Do I need to use the definite article or not? Or is it optional?
    From my BE perspective the definite article is needed in this context. There are two ways of saying the same thing:

    "In this video we will cover the alignment of text"
    "In this video we will cover text alignment"

    The point here is that the subject matter is a specific type of alignment - the alignment of text - and it is the specificity that requires the definite article. The only way of dispensing with the article is to use the noun phrase text alignment.

    If the video was one of a series that all dealt with text, or was one which dealt with alignment in a general way, the sentence would be "In this video we will cover alignment" and it would be wrong to use the definite article.
     

    TheGist

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Andygc, thank you very much for the clear explanation.

    @EStjarn
    <...> uncountable nouns <...> are not used with the indefinite article at all.
    How about "a good knowledge of English"? Knowledge is uncountable and is used with an indefinite article.
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    You have a point. It's because the noun is qualified: knowledge of English is grammatically not the same thing as knowledge. By themselves, uncountable nouns are not preceded by the indefinite article.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It's similar to the point about "alignment". When you combine it to form "alignment of text" or "knowledge of English", it becomes something different, something specific.
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    In the thread Use of definite article "the" in front of uncountable noun the OP basically asks the same question as TheGist does except that the uncountable nouns (alignment vs. research) and their qualifications are different. It seems the only reply in that thread that addresses the question directly is post #2 by a British member, who apparently prefers no article in front of research, suggesting the following construction: Despite money being pumped into research into the treatment of schizophrenia ..."
     
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    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Odd as it may seem, research into treatment of schizophrenia is also non-specific. That is, in that context the point is that money is being pumped into all research into schizophrenia, not just into one specific project or one specific research pathway.
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    The point here is that the subject matter is a specific type of alignment - the alignment of text - and it is the specificity that requires the definite article.
    What I'm questioning is whether it is this clear-cut to determine whether a qualified uncountable noun needs the definite article or not. If it is, I believe one should be able to say: The point here is that the subject matter is a specific type of research - the research into the treatment of schizophrenia - and it is the specificity that requires the definite article.
     
    Last edited:

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    No it is not absolutely clear cut. We can make a rule that specificity requires an article, but then founder on what is meant by specificity.

    Because I am a native speaker I see the correct usage intuitively and then try to describe a rule later if asked why I use or omit the article. When I see the sentence in the OP it is immediately clear to me that the context ofalignment of text makes the article mandatory, so it must show specificity to fit the rule. In the research example it is equally immediately clear to me that for research into schizophrenia the omission of the article is mandatory and so it must lack specificity, again to fit the rule. My difficulty then is to explain why one is specific and the other is not. When I look again at my immediate response on this point I realise that it is a bit trite - I can think of examples where the scope of the research is narrowed further, but the article remains to be, of necessity, omitted.

    I've been trying to think of examples to explain further, and for the time being I'm stuck and my head hurts, so I'll have to go away and think about it.
     
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