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In English, the article is omitted in general statements. Does Italian use the definite article in such sentences? Example:

"Non feriamo gli animali" = We do not hurt the animals (specific animals, e.g., the ones in this zoo, the ones I own).

May it also mean "We do not hurt animals" (animals in general)?

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In Italian articles are used in a different way than in English. This is a major difficulty for Italian learners of English, and I suppose it is the same for English learners of Italian :).

Ignoring poetic language (where sometimes the article is omitted or inserted for metric reasons) and other specialized languages (e.g. in telegrams articles are omitted because they are paid by the word), the article in Italian is omitted only in certain fixed contexts. For a detailed list, you can consult this article (in Italian).

In the particular case of general sentences the article can be both omitted and not omitted. So Non feriamo gli animali and Non feriamo animali are both acceptable translations of We do not hurt animals. All the grammars I consulted suggest that the latter (with the article omitted) is a more sustained register, but at least to me it sounds perfectly normal and I wouldn't hesitate to use it in normal conversation.

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    I'd say that Non feriamo animali might seem to have a subtext of something like “Yes, we hurt some beings, but not animals”... – DaG Aug 20 '19 at 9:37
  • @DaG I also perceive them to be slightly different but I am a bit at loss for words when I try to explain this difference precisely. Note that also "Non feriamo gli animali" might have the same connotation as in your comment (E.g. "Non feriamo gli animali, ma le piante sì") – Denis Nardin Aug 20 '19 at 9:42

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