I saw it in several authoritative sources that either 'the' or 'zero article' is equally possible with seasons in a general sense. I.e. it's cold in winter is equivalent to it's cold in the winter.

Can anyone clarify one thing - if the meaning is the same why would you have two different grammatical constructs?

Again as before I suspect that there might be some subtle difference which I dont know about.

Please, can you share your comments. Emotion: smile

You are right that there is no need to use an article with seasons. It is really just a matter of choice. Although using “the” does slightly stress that you mean one particular season rather than another:

. ..in the winter sounds more specific and stresses that you mean that it is the winter that is cold, rather than any other season. ...in winter sounds more general.

As you suspect this is all rather subtle, and most English readers and listeners would not notice any difference!

I hope that helps,

- Nick
But what about "a" article? May it ever be used with seasons?

eg A spring is coming.
Would using "a" be a mistake in the example above and in the example given by Somethingsimple?
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You could say "a spring" if you indicated a particular spring or a particular type of spring: "Spring is coming. It's going to be a cold spring this year." "We had a very mild winter this year." "I remember a certain summer when I was a child...."

As to why the different constructs (winter, the winter) are possible if they don't carry different meanings -- I don't know why, but I would say that this is something very typical of English (compared to other languages). Maybe they originated in different areas, or at different times, and both became accepted. English is very, very flexible and has more ways of saying the same thing than many languages do. As a native speaker, I can't explain why I might say "bears hibernate in winter" one time and "bears hibernate in the winter" another time -- it might just be random, or it might have more to do with how I want the sentence to sound then any specific meaning I want to convey. Sorry!
Hello SS

You are correct. In his grammar book CGEL, Quirk says we can use either "winter" or "the winter" in generic sense, but he does not mention anything but that "the fall" in AmE is commonly "the fall" and that "winter" can sometimes mean "winter's climate".
(EX) The winter of 1945 was an exciting time to us. [calendar]
(EX) Winter in 1945 was not like this last winter.[climate]

As to your question about how come different expressions "winter" and "the winter" are used in generic sense, I have no clue. But the historic quotes in OED suggest that Old English people said just "it's cold in winter" and "it's cold in the winter" was not common as a generic sense at least up to the time of Shakespeare. My personal guess is the change might be related to the geographic expansion of English people's living place. When they were confined into the small region within British islands, what winter is like would not vary so much from place to place. But due to the geographic discoveries by Columbus and other people, "winter" varies depending on location, and so they began to use a quasi-generic expression of "the winter" to mean "the winter in this area". It's merely my personal speculation so that I strongly advise that you had better not believe that it is true.

RuslanaBut what about "a" article? May it ever be used with seasons?

eg A spring is coming.
Would using "a" be a mistake in the example above and in the example given by Somethingsimple?Hello Ruslana

I think you can say "a spring" in certain contexts.
(EX) How may a spring come without birds and flowers?
(EX) Thus passed a winter and another summer came.

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I think as far as “seasons” are concerned, chances are we see “the” in front t of them more often than not. I don’t know the reason either.

Summer is my favorite time of the year. If we put “the” in front of “summer”, it sounds awkward. On the other hand

During the winter, living in the East Coast means extra cost for heating.

I guess it really depends on the context. Some sound ok with or without the article “the”.

In some cases it sounds lacking without it.

But other times it may sound awkward with it.
Thanks, Khoff and Paco. I got it.

It seems that sometimes one should rely on intuition when choosing whether to place "the" before seasons or not. Emotion: smile
Intuition has nothing to do with it. I think the subject is too specialised, so it does not pay for anyone to sit down and specifially do research and write a book about them.

That's why the only way is to ask people around in places like this. Lucky us. Emotion: smile
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