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.
More on Using the Definite Article
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.
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 Natural History Museum|
|newspapers||The Independent, The Daily Mirror, The 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|