Lemony Snicket once said: ‘Grammar is the greatest joy in life, don't you find?’ Well, I bet most newcomer English learners don’t find it that way, especially when it comes to the correct usage of definite and indefinite article. The truth is that the articles are often introduced to the students at the very beginning of English grammar course, as long as they are generally regarded as relatively simple topic especially against a background of such ‘grammar monsters’ as verb tenses (e.g. Future Perfect and Future Perfect Continuous), subjunctive mood or relative clauses. Such generally accepted approach often leads to a situation, where the students (especially those, whose native language does not have any similar part of speech, so they barely understand why the one should use these tricky little words ‘a’ and ‘the’ before a noun) don’t fully grasp the concept of definite and indefinite articles in English. Subsequently, when this relatively simple and short topic is interposed and outcompeted by other much more complicated grammar aspects and is literally sidelined out of the students’ conciseness, many English learners tend to let that thing with definite and indefinite article go hang and start to use ‘a’ and ‘the’ rather in autopilot mode or depending on what sounds better in terms of pronunciation than in compliance with grammar rules and principles of English language.
What is even worse is that the language of many foreign students does not have such a part of speech as an article at all, so many of such foreign English learners often consider ‘a’ and ‘the’ standing before a noun as a mere name and believe that confusion between these two cannot be deemed as a real grammar mistake, as well as cannot significantly affect the meaning of the statement. Actually, such approach is entirely misleading as long as sometimes the usage of definite article may alter the meaning of sentence literally beyond recognition. Here’s a classical example. Let’s suppose that we have two almost similar sentences: ‘I have to buy a new computer for school’ and ‘I have to buy a new computer for the school ’. While the first implies that your PC is probably too old to handle with your school assignments, so you need a new one with faster state-of-art system CPU, the second actually means that you have damaged the school property, so you need to buy a new desktop to compensate for a loss. You see? In this case the indefinite article may actually cost around a thousand buck.
Earlier our expert editing team already declared a blog war on articles misuse and posted an advanced grammar guide on indefinite article and everything related to it. Today we are about to open a new theatre of operations and offer you a really quick and easy way to get definite article and use it like a real pro.
Definite Article – Stand Out of the Herd
Now let's come down to fundamentals. The English language has the only one definite article ‘the’ that is used for all the genders before nouns in both singular and plural form. Actually, the word ‘the’ is the most commonly used word in the English language, so it’s another good reason to honor it with correct and appropriate usage.
In general, the definite article is used before nouns that are of particular or unique nature identifiable for listener or reader, as well as when the speaker believes that his vis-а-vis is already familiar with the object he is referring to. Below you may find several simple rules and most common examples of cases where the definite article is to be used.
1. We use definite article when referring to the persons or objects that were mentioned previously.
Police released APB on a man suspected in murder. The suspect is armed and very dangerous.
Yesterday I was promoted to a new position. The job is associated with business development.
I’m reading Fight Club by Palahniuk right now. The book is really awesome!
2. We use ‘the’ when referring to previously unmentioned object that is implied to be one of a kind.
I really enjoyed the movie you suggested to watch.
Turn left on that intersection, drive around three miles and you will the see the building.
May I use the restroom?
3. We use definite article in the sentences where we define or identify specific person or object.
This is the record that made him famous.
My father is the man I’ve always admired.
I own the black car parked next to my house.
4. We use ‘the’ to refer to unique objects or people.
The Vice-President of our company is really experienced professional.
The Chairman announced Shareholders’ meeting closed.
The sun is rising.
5. The definite article is used before superlatives and ordinal numbers.
John is the brightest student in our group.
He kicked a goal on the last minute of that game.
This is the second time I ask you to do it.
6. The definite article is used when referring to a whole group of people.
The Government should pay more attention to the unprivileged.
The German brew the finest bear in the world.
Law enforcement must take more measures to protect the underage.
7. We use definite article with decades.
I was born in the crazy 1970s.
8. We use definite article in the clauses introduced by ‘only’.
She was the only person he loved.
Whiskey is the only alcohol drink I enjoy.
His friend is the only man he trusts.
9. We use ‘the’ with following proper nouns:
Geographical areas, mountain ranges, groups of islands, rivers, et cetera;
Countries whose names are in plural or include the words ‘kingdom’, ‘republic’ or ‘states‘;
Newspapers and other printed media names;
The objects of cultural heritage, including the famous building, works of art, et cetera;
Names of hotels, restaurants and other establishments unless they are named after a person;
Names of families;
Now attention! Definite article is never to be used in the following instances:
The names of countries except for cases above;
The names of languages;
The names of tows, streets, railway and subway stations, airports, et cetera;
The names of meals;
The names of shops;
After possessive case;
With uncountable nouns;
With the names of individual mountains, islands and lakes.
It Is Always Better Be Safe than Sorry
I hope this short blogpost will be really helpful for you in learning the definite article, but don’t you ever forget that mistakes are made by everyone. The motto of our proofreading company is that ‘it’s better be safe than sorry’, so we are glad to offer you our expert proofreading and revision service, so you can be sure that your academic paper is 100% free of any grammar, spelling and lexical mistakes. If share this motto as well, than feel free to contact our support team to get more info on the services we offer.
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