Using the Definite Article


In the English language a, an, and the are called articles.

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BoyThe is a definite article. It is used before a noun to refer to a particular one.

Example: I was playing with the boy.

The boy refers to a particular boy.

A and an are indefinite articles. They are used before nouns to refer to something in general.

Example: I was playing with a boy.

A boy could be any boy.

Example: She wanted an umbrella.

An umbrella could be any umbrella. She is not referring to a specific one.

Using the definite article

Computer lady
The definite article the is the most frequently used word in the English language. It is the same for all genders in singular or plural forms.

Correct:
  • I am looking for the boy.
  • She is fixing the computer.
Also Correct:
  • I am looking for the boys.
  • She is fixing the computers.


Pronouncing the definite article

There are two different ways to pronounce the definite article the.

Pronounce it like "thuh" before nouns that begin with a spoken consonant

A spoken consonant is the sound at the beginning of a word that is not one of the five vowels (a, e, i, o, u).

Examples: the bear, the cat, the girls


Pronounce it like "thee" before nouns that begin with a spoken vowel

A spoken vowel is the sound at the beginning of a word that is a vowel sound (a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y).

Examples: the apple, the umbrella, the old school, the yellow bus


Using the definite article before nouns

1) We use the definite article the before a noun when the noun is specific.

A book about catsOnce we have identified the noun to the reader or listener, we begin using the before the noun.

Example: I am reading a book. The book is about cats.

In this example the noun is identified in the first sentence. The first sentence is not referring to a specific book, so I did not use the definite article.

In the second sentence, the noun has been identified and I am talking about a specific book. I use the definite article before the book.

2) We use the definite article with any noun that represents one particular subject.

Examples:
  • The President visited our city last year. (There is only one current president.)
  • The sun is bright today. (There is only one sun in our sky.)
The sun

3) We use the definite article when there is only one nearby.

Examples:
  • Dad, can I borrow the car? (There is one car at our house.)
  • I am going to wear the blue shirt today. (I have one blue shirt in my closet.)


Using the definite article with names

We do not usually use the definite article before people's names.

Incorrect: The Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States.

Correct:
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States.


We
do use the definite article before:

1) Countries with plural nouns as their name
  • Example: I am flying to the Netherlands.
2) Countries with names like Kingdom, State, or Republic
  • Example: I live in the United States.
3) Names of geographical features such as oceans, mountains, rivers and seas
  • Example: We sailed on the Pacific Ocean.
4) Names of newspapers
  • Example: We had a subscription to the New York Times.
5) Names of well-known buildings or works of art
  • Example: We visited the Empire State Building last year.
6) Names of families
  • Example: The Smiths live there.
7) Names of organizations
  • Example: We are members of the Chess Club.
8) Names of hotels

Example: We slept at the Holiday Inn.

9) The definite article the is optional before seasons of the year.

Examples:
  • I love fishing in the summer.
    or I love fishing in summer.
  • I go to school in the spring.
    or I go to school in spring.

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