A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 2)
In a previous post, we looked at the indefinite article, a or an, and when to use it. In this one, we’ll talk about the use of the definite article the.
When to use the
Unlike the indefinite variety, the definite article is used to talk about a noun that is specific. Its presence in a sentence suggests that the speaker and listener, or the writer and reader, both clearly understand which noun is being referred to.
Here are some situations when the indefinite article the is commonly used.
- Referring to something that has already been mentioned
I had some pizza and a glass of lemonade. The pizza was so tasty!
Did you know that a couple met with an accident right here yesterday? The woman is still in a coma.
- Referring to something which the listener is already familiar with
I’m going to the supermarket. Would you like something?
[The listener knows that the speaker is talking about a specific store, where they usually buy things]
Where is the cookery book? I can’t find it in the kitchen.
[The listener knows that the speaker is talking about a specific book which they usually keep in the kitchen]
- Before superlative forms (e.g. tallest, shortest, fastest, most beautiful), as there is generally just one in a group which can be the tallest, fastest, most beautiful, etc.
My dad’s office is located in the tallest building in our city.
She is the most beautiful girl in my town.
- Assuming there is only one thing of a kind somewhere
Excuse me, can you please direct me to the cafeteria?
[The speaker assumes that there is only one cafeteria in the area]
Let’s go to that new mall on Orchard Street. I’ll meet you in the car park at around 11.
[The speaker assumes that the mall has just one car park]
- Referring to unique people or things
The principal has called for an emergency meeting.
[There is usually just one principal in a college/university]
The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
[There is only one star by the name sun in the solar system]
The definite article is the most frequently used word in English, so we’ll be back soon with more on its use.