Definite Article‏‎s in English Grammar

What is the Definite Article?

We use the definite article – the – when we talk about a noun which refers to a particular member of a a group.

In other words, we use the definite article to talk about a specific noun from a group.

In this example the group is all men; we want to reference a particular man so we say:

The man in the hat.

Compare this with the indefinite article‏‎ which refers to any man in the group:

A man in a hat.

So to reiterate, the refers to a specific example while a/an refers to any example.

Unlike in many other languages, the definite article doesn’t change its form in English. It is always the whether the noun is masculine, feminine or neuter, singular or plural.

The woman…
The man…
The chair…
The door…
The doors…

More on Using the Definite Article

Prior Reference

We often use the after the noun has already been mentioned (often with a/an). For example:

An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a pub. The Englishman ordered a bitter; the Irishman ordered a Guinness and the Scotsman ordered a whisky.

The first time we mention the noun we use the indefinite article and from then on we use the definite article.

Known Reference

If both speakers know what they are talking about they can use the even though the noun may not have been mentioned before. In other words, it is implied that the noun has already been mentioned.

Excuse me, do you know what the time is?

Where’s the toilet?

What’s the score?

In these examples, the speaker assumes that the listener knows what is being talked about.


In addition, the is used in the following special circumstances

superlatives‏‎ the highest, the biggest, the oldest
ordinal numbers‏‎ the third man, the sixth wife
oceans, seas the Pacific, the Black Sea
inventions the wheel, the internal combustion engine
titles‏‎ the Queen, the President, the chairperson
rivers & canals the Thames, the Nile, the Suez
public buildings the Sheraton, the Red Lion, the Smithsonian Museum
newspapers The Daily Record, The Daily News, The NY Times
families the Browns, the Bushes
countries of union the United States, the United Arab Emirates
mountain chains the Alps, the Highlands
instruments the piano, the bag pipes
ships the Bismarck, the Lusitania

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Posted in Parts of Speech.

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