The Definite Article

The definite article is used when a particular thing is referred to. When the thing is definite!

You use the definite article:

- before a noun of which there is only one, or only one can be understood

  • The president, the baker, the sun, the moon, the stars.

- before an adjective used as a noun to describe a class of people.
  • The English, the French
  • There have recently been several technical advancements for the deaf.

- before the names of many geographical areas
  • the Thames, the Rhine, the Himalayas, the United States

- before the names of musical instruments
  • the guitar, the drums, the trumpet section

- in conjunction with a superlative
  • the best computer, the best web site, the most interesting book.

There's a special idiomatic function in connection with this:

  • The bigger the better.
  • The bigger they come the harder they fall.
  • The more the merrier.

You don't use the definite article:



- before meals, languages, sicknesses, sports, and many expressions of place and time.

  • I never drink before breakfast.
  • I'll see you next week.
  • He's got asthma.

- before buildings, places and forms of transportation when we are interested in the function, not the object itself.

  • They went to school by taxi.
  • They went to bed.
  • He took him to court.

- But!

  • I left my umbrella on the bus.
  • The bus stops outside the school to let the children off.

Can you see that these sentences do not pertain to the function of the bus?

- Exceptions!

  • He went to the office.
  • He's coming back to the theater.
  • He just got back from the bank.

- before nouns used in a general sense, particularly abstract and uncountable nouns.
  • Sugar isn't good for overactive children.
  • Money is the root of all evil.
  • Life isn't easy here in the jungle.

- But!

- When a phrase using of is employed, the noun usually has the definite article.

  • The Shah of Iran was a real weenie.
  • The life of the nobility in France was tenuous at the start of the revolution.
  • The education of an ESL student requires more personality than grammatical facility.

- But!

- That's not the case when you don't use of :

  • They're meeting to discuss defense strategies in the Middle East.
  • Life in ancient Greece was idyllic.

Linguistic usage also shapes the way we use the definite article. Compare the similar phrases below, more or less equal in meaning but not in the use of the definite article:

  • the death penalty - capital punishment
  • The American Broadcasting Company - ABC

 

 

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