"the" vs. "their"

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Dear friends!

The sentence I would like to ask you about is given below:

Because of their strong variability, irregularity, and complex structure, automatic processing and analysis of these signals is a rather complicated task, a fact generally accepted by scientists doing research in the field of geophysics.

The word "their" refers to "signals" mentioned later in the phrase. Is it possible to write here "the" instead of "their"? Very often when working on manuscripts to be submitted to conferences I come across such situations when it is necessary to decide whether to write "the" or "their". "The" is a definite article used when writing about something you have already mentioned or something that is specific and hence clear from the very beginning. What do you think here? Would it be a mistake if I wrote "the"?

Thanks!

 
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  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    You could replace "their" with "the" here, but I think you lose a little bit of meaning when you do this. Using "their" prepares the reader to look for the noun "signals" later in the text. Using "the" doesn't emphasize the relationship between signals and their nature and behavior as strongly as "their" does.
     
    You could replace "their" with "the" here, but I think you lose a little bit of meaning when you do this. Using "their" prepares the reader to look for the noun "signals" later in the text. Using "the" doesn't emphasize the relationship between signals and their nature and behavior as strongly as "their" does.
    Ok, so they are interchangeable, aren't they, and we can ALWAYS replace one with the other when the meaning is clear? As I have understood, both words will lead to the same meaning, while "their" just makes more emphasis on what is going to be said.

    Thanks!
     

    Bevj

    Allegra Moderata (Sp/Eng, Cat)
    English (U.K.)
    I don't think you can use 'the' without rewriting the sentence.
    If we rephrase the way it is currently written, we can say 'Automatic processing and analysis of these signals is a rather complicated task because of their strong variablity.....' Clearly, substituting 'the' for 'their' doesn't work.
     
    I don't think you can use 'the' without rewriting the sentence.
    If we rephrase the way it is currently written, we can say 'Automatic processing and analysis of these signals is a rather complicated task because of their strong variablity.....' Clearly, substituting 'the' for 'their' doesn't work.
    Could you explain to me why "the" would not work in the rephrased sentence? It is not obvious to me.

    Thanks!
     
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Because "the strong variability" would give rise to the question: "the strong variability of what?" It would not refer back to "these signals".

    For example:

    "Launching these ships on the 1st of June would have been difficult because of the variability of winds and tides in the area at that time of year."

    In "...because of the variability...", "the" refers to "winds and tides", not "ships".

    In "processing and analysis of these signals is a rather complicated task because of their strong variability", "their" is shorthand for "because of the strong variability of these signals".

    "Their strong variability" = "The strong variability of these signals"

    If you want to repeat the subject you can use "the".
     
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