The Missing Article
Omitting the article the from before the proper name of an organization or a location is a common error—even, surprisingly, in content produced by such entities. In each of the following sentences, the article is awkwardly absent. Discussion and revision of each sentence shows how to resolve the problem (unless there is no problem because of how the name is treated).
1. Young people are increasingly accessing news sources on their phones, according to Pew Research Center.
To test whether an article belongs before a proper name, change the name to a generic reference, such as center in place of “Pew Research Center.” “According to center” does not make sense, so, just as it would be appropriate to insert the before center, insert it before the proper name: “Young people are increasingly accessing news sources on their phones, according to the Pew Research Center.”
If the proper name modified a following noun, however, as in the following sentence, no article is required: “Young people are increasingly accessing news sources on their phones, according to Pew Research Center staff.” (The is optional if the staff have already been referred to.)
2. Heavens Gate cult committed mass suicides in California in 1997.
The same test is appropriate in a reference such as this one. “Cult committed mass suicide in California in 1997” works as a headline (where articles are often omitted) but not as a sentence, so insert the before the proper name: “The Heavens Gate cult committed mass suicide in California in 1997.”
However, in this case, strictly speaking, the cult members, not the cult, committed suicide, so this revision is better: “Heavens Gate cult members committed mass suicide in California in 1997.” (Here, because the subject refers to individuals, not a single entity, the test isn’t required, but the article should be included if the members have already been mentioned earlier.)
3. Spice Girls topped the music charts seven times.
References to groups of performers should be treated the same way, but only if the name refers to the individuals: “The Spice Girls topped the music charts seven times.” Again, the article is not required if the name modifies a plural noun, as in “Spice Girls songs topped the music charts seven times.”
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