Definite article question
November 7, 2019 5:36 PM   Subscribe

I have a question about definite article use--and its non-use.

We don't use "the" when writing about "climate change":

"Climate change is a big problem." No definite article; "the climate change" sounds odd.

With the subject "environmental crisis," though, we need an article:

"An environmental crisis is sweeping the nation."

Both phrases boil down to nouns, "change" and "crisis." So why does one take the definite article and the other doesn't? Full disclosure, I'm a teacher and one of my students asked me, but I'm stumped so I'm asking you smart folks.
posted by zardoz to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think it's because climate change is an uncountable noun. More here. There are multiple environmental crises.
posted by pinochiette at 5:49 PM on November 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Count noun vs. mass noun. It’s conceivable to have more than one environmental crisis so the definite article specifies it, whereas ‘climate change’ is a different form of concept. ‘A/the climate change’ would refer to a specific effect not the general concept.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:50 PM on November 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Also "environmental" is an adjective describing that particular "crisis," while "climate change" is a non-count, compound noun.
posted by tzikeh at 5:56 PM on November 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Asked and answered, thanks folks!
posted by zardoz at 6:24 PM on November 7, 2019

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