(the) elderly shoppers

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EdisonBhola

Senior Member
Korean
Hi all, my son wrote the following sentence as part of his English writing:

After knowing that the supermarket no longer provides shopping bags, the elderly shoppers got really angry.

His non-native English teacher crossed out "the" in front of "elderly shoppers" with no explanation. Is this deletion justified? I think the deletion is wrong because without "the", it means elderly shoppers in general, i.e. all elderly shoppers in the world, which doesn't make sense.

Is my rationale correct?
 
  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    "Elderly shoppers in general" is the correct interpretation without "the", but this does not mean "all elderly shoppers in the world".

    "The" is often added to plural nouns to mean all of them (although without any emphasis; there could be a handful of exceptions). In this case "the elderly shoppers" would be all those who used that supermarket, or nearly all of them at any rate. Omitting "the" could mean that just some of them got angry.

    Without knowing the situation, I could not say whether "the" is appropriate in this sentence or not. Grammatically, either is fine.
     
    Last edited:

    EdisonBhola

    Senior Member
    Korean
    "Elderly shoppers in general" is the correct interpretation without "the", but this does not mean "all elderly shoppers in the world".

    "The" is often added to plural nouns to mean all of them (although without any emphasis; there could be a handful of exceptions). In this case "the elderly shoppers" would be all those who used that supermarket, or nearly all of them at any rate. Omitting "the" could mean that just some of them got angry.

    Without knowing the situation, I could not say whether "the" is appropriate in this sentence or not. Grammatically, it does not matter either way.
    Thanks! So I've always been taught wrongly. I was taught that a plural noun without "the" means non-specific group or the whole group all over the world. :(
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think you do need the definite article before “elderly shoppers” to make it clear that it means the customers of a particular supermarket. There is an error in the sentence, but that’s not it.

    It’s also a pretty ageist remark. :D
     

    EdisonBhola

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I think you do need the definite article before “elderly shoppers” to make it clear that it means the customers of a particular supermarket. There is an error in the sentence, but that’s not it.

    It’s also a pretty ageist remark. :D
    Where is the error?
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    So with or without "the", both are grammatically correct with a slight difference in meaning?
    Articles have no inherent meaning; their use is entirely referential. Accordingly, the "definite" article marks definite reference, while the "indefinite" article marks indefinite reference. The question then becomes, who determines whether reference is definite or indefinite when you have an isolated sentence, a sentence with no context? Well, it's your son who determines definite reference for "elderly shoppers (it's his sentence, after all, and his perspective of things);" the elderly shoppers are those shoppers that your son envisions as getting angry at the news that the supermarket they frequent no longer provides shopping bags. The sentence is therefore grammatically and semantically correct.

    However, put the sentence in context, and that context might make a difference. You say that this sentence is part of his English writing. Does that mean that the sentence is part of a story? If it's part of a story, the definite article ("the elderly shoppers) signals that you've already mentioned these particular shoppers before. That's one of the pragmatic/semantic effects of definite reference; you differentiate these (elderly) shoppers from other shoppers. If your son hasn't actually mentioned "elderly shoppers," then the reader might have trouble "processing" what the exact reference of the definite article is, and that may be why the teacher crossed out the definite article.
     
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