The difference between “a majority of” or “the majority of” is slight. The articles “a” or “the” can often be interchangeable. But, for the sake of understanding, “a majority of” is general and requires a plural verb. “The majority of” indicates something specific and is singular.
While this is not a hard and fast rule, it is the basic premise. So, even if you make a technical mistake, it will often go unnoticed.
The Parts of Speech
To understand the difference between the two phrases, it’s important to dissect their parts of speech. “A” and “the” are articles, which support the singular noun, “majority” (meaning most or almost all). “Of” is a preposition that connects it to any other countable or uncountable noun.
When to Use the Phrases
Oftentimes “a majority of” or “the majority of” can be seamlessly interchangeable. The verb is the only thing that changes to show agreement with “majority” or the object. But, generally, “a majority of” will have ambiguity, and “the majority of” connotes a fact.
“A Majority of”
My cat sleeps a majority of the time.
A majority of women prefer nail polish.
When a majority of children start screaming, we give them ice cream.
“The Majority of”
The majority of marriages in the US end in divorce but this is changing.
Once the majority of votes are in, we’ll count them.
Tony spends the majority of his life playing video games.
Interchanging the Phrases
There are instances where using either phrase won’t sound right. Even still, the awkward uses aren’t all that bad. Observe the following samples along with the changes to show agreement where applicable:
- Acceptable: My cat sleeps the majority of the time.
- Acceptable: When the majority of children start screaming, we give them ice cream.
- Acceptable: Tony spends a majority of his life playing video games.
- Acceptable: A majority of marriages in the US end in divorce, but this is changing.
- Awkward: Once a majority of votes is in, we’ll count them.
- Awkward: The majority of women prefer nail polish.
As you can see, there’s not much of a difference between “a majority of” and “the majority of.” Even if you opt for the awkward ones (or don’t find them to be that way), no one will notice. But, “the” does point to a specific more than “a” does.