The definite article ‘the’ is the most frequently occuring word in English. For this reason, it’s important to know when we should be using it, and when we shouldn’t. There are many uses of the definite article ‘the’ – and I’m sure you’d get bored reading if we listed them all on the same page – so we’re just going to list the most important ones for now.

We use the definite article in front of a noun when we believe the hearer/reader knows what, or who, we are referring to. We say, for example, ‘the weather is nice today’, because both the listener and speaker have no doubt about what the weather is!

– We use the definite article when there is only one of something, or only one of something in that place or surroundings.

Many people make mistakes with this, particularly Spanish speakers, as they may say ‘I am going to the mountain’, which makes perfect sense if we literally translate it back. In English, this indicates there is only one mountain in the entire world, and you’re going to it.

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We don’t use the definite article when we speak about general nouns, e.g people, schools, sweets, flowers and so on. The use of the definite article with general nouns leads the listener to believe you are referring to something specific – so we use the definite article to refer to something specific rather than something general.

Some correct examples are as follows:

The Pope visited Africa last week.

The sun is shining brightly today.

My house is next to the church (only one church in the area).

Mum, can I use the car (the car we have as a family)?

It’s the pink house with the white curtains (the house I’m looking right at).

The people who live in my town are very unfriendly (specific group of people).

Remember that in English, we use ‘the’ with a superlative adjective.

This is because there’s only one, in that case. So we always say ‘the most’, ‘the best’, ‘the tallest’, etc. because it indicates only one.

– We use the definite article when we have already mentioned something previously in a conversation. The first time we mention something, we will use ‘a’ or ‘an’. The next time, we use ‘the’.

“There’s a cat outside!” … “Oh, the cat’s gone. You didn’t see it.”
“Yesterday I saw a man and a woman arguing in the supermarket. The man looked much angrier than the woman.”
My dad once fell whilst climbing a mountain. The mountain was not one of the easiest to climb, and he had to admit defeat.
These are the most basic uses of the definite article ‘the’. There are more uses, but too much information is often bad information! Practise the two uses discussed today in the questions attached.

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Kym Charles
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