The Usage Of The Definite Article: Rules And Exceptions

We have already mentioned many tough questions related to grammar rules. The usage of the article is one of the most complicated category in English grammar. There are quite a few factors which may have an influence on the usage of the definite or indefinite article. Sometimes in some phrases there is no article to be found at all. But don't worry, it also has its reasons.

Here we are going to look through the usage of the definite article: rules and exceptions. If you still won't be sure about your paper, we are eager to help anytime you need.

The definite article is used:

1. In case of speaking about something in particular:

  • I like this album. The music is great (the particular music in the particular album, not music in general);

! In order to be completely sure in the usage of the definite article try to replace 'the' with 'this'/'these'. If it sounds good, the definite article is used.

2. In case of a phrase: 'Where is the...?'

  • Where is the book?

3. In case of the usage of the attribute:

  • This is the book that Dickens wrote;
  • Show me the mail you sent yesterday;
  • The arguments in his essay are very interesting;
  • The stories of her aunt is a bit annoying.

! An attribute related to a particular object should be distinguished from a descriptive one which is used to describe an object or to give some extra details. Using a descriptive attribute have no influence on using of an article:

  • I had a wonderful dress which was made of silk;
  • John went to the store which had been closed for two weeks;
  • She met the man speaking French fluently.

Compare these two sentences:

  • The popular journalist Peter Johnson studied in this university five years ago;
  • Peter Johnson, a popular journalist, studied in this university five years ago.

4. When the object is considered to be particular, and we understand it due to the context or the situation:

  • The atmosphere was perfect. The girl enjoyed the party a lot.

5. You should also use the definite article when the noun means a thing the only of its kind. It could be celestial bodies, ocean, seas, etc:

  • The Sun is by far the largest object in the solar system;
  • The Earth is the only planet known to support life.

6. The definite article is also used before ordinal numbers:

  • Your apartment is on the third floor;
  • Today is the 20th of June.

! The Second World War but World War II.

7. In case of usage of nouns which are part of a generic statement:

  • The whale is in danger of becoming extinct;
  • The pineapple don't have sleeves;
  • Who invented the wheel?

8. The superlative degree always need the definite article:

  • Winter is the coldest season of the year;
  • What is the deepest river in Asia?

9. When using the words same, all, wrong, right, very, next, following, last, only, whole:

  • How would you spend the last day of your life?
  • Read the text from the very beginning;
  • The same thing, over and over again;
  • She is busy the following day.

! However, when we say 'Next' in terms of future and 'last' in terms of past, no article is needed:

  • We will be enrolled in this course next semester.

10. With substantivized adjectives and particles:

  • The blind and the deaf should have a financial aid;
  • This brand is for the rich. The prices are really high.

! You should never use these phrases in singular. It will be inappropriate to use these words with the indefinite article. However, you can say 'a rich man' or 'a dead end'.

11. Use the definite article when you have got the only one of something:

  • Clean the floor! (there is only one);
  • Would you like to go to the sea after breakfast? (the only sea in this country);
  • The president is deeply concerned about the situation.

12. You should use the definite article in case of the usage of the words that don't necessarily mean something in particular:

  • Now you should go to the post office and get the parcel;
  • Such a terrible toothache! I'm gonna visit the dentist today;
  • Usually I spend my vacations in the country;
  • I heard this song on the radio last week;
  • I would rather go to the theatre;
  • Her son is in the army now.

! You should not use the definite article before the word television.

! You should not use the definite article with the phrases go to sea/be at sea when you mean go/be on the water. Compare:

  • Her husband is the captain, he spend a lot of time at sea;
  • To live near the sea in winter is terrible.

! You should use the definite article with the word space when you mean room or place for something, not cosmos. Compare:

  • In space we trust!;
  • The space in this room wasn't enough, that's why I decided to look for another one.

13. You should also use the definite article when speaking about musical instruments:

  • I would like you to play the guitar;
  • The flute is her favorite instrument.

14. The definite article is used when speaking about nationalities, as well as 'everyone living in that state': the Chinese, the English, the Irish, the Arabs, etc.

! She is an American.

15. In case we mean the whole family: The Johnsons, The Smiths.

Here's described the basic cases where the definite article can be used. Always consult the dictionary in case of any difficulties. But remember that language is flexible, and there might be quite a few exceptions that are not mentioned in grammar books. By the way, you don't have to be a bookworm in order to get hand in a good writing. Turn to the professional proofreading service or just ask our editors and don't be worry about your paperwork.

You should also keep in mind that there are also certain construction when the definite article is always used. Such stable phrases cannot be changed. In order to see examples and learn more you may found them in dictionaries or on special web sites devoted to English grammar. You can also find the basic cases of their usage. However, it s not necessary to turn to these sources every time. Learning the phrases by hear would bet the best decision.