Few people can define what a definite article is, but you most likely use it every day, all day, and aren’t even aware of it.
The English language only has one definite article, the word “the,” and it has quite a few rules associated with it, even if its use is common in our everyday speech and writing.
One thing to always remember is that a definite article is always used with a noun. Let’s inspect its use so you can be sure it is being used correctly.
What is a Definite Article in English?
The only definite article in the English language is “the”. It is always used before a singular or plural noun to define something specific, such as a noun previously mentioned or implied, a noun being referred to by the speaker, or something unique.
When Is “The” Used? With Examples
There are many ways to use the word “the” and understanding its correct placement can be helpful when you are trying to make a specific point or need to clarify something. Review these general rules and definite article examples to help you use them properly.
When the refers to a noun that has already been mentioned:
- I have an interview for a new job tomorrow. The position entails work that will allow me to grow my career.
- She was at the dealership to purchase a new vehicle. The car she was looking at had all the updated amenities.
When you assume there is only one of something, even if it has not been mentioned:
- He was looking for the bathroom at the restaurant.
- I really enjoyed the new book I picked up from the bookstore yesterday.
To refer to people or objects that are unique:
- The moon will be full in the night sky this Friday.
- The baristas at my favorite coffee shop always get my order correct.
Include prior to specific decades and centuries:
- She placed his birthdate as somewhere in the 1920s.
- The 18th century was a time of growth in America.
- He was born during the nineties.
Use with clauses introduced by only:
- This is the only day I have time to make it to the gym, so please don’t screw up my schedule.
- Her mother was the only person she could talk to about the hard week she had.
In sentences or clauses where a particular person or object is being defined or identified:
- The police officer at the security desk was very helpful in directing us where to go to court.
- The little blue truck was a dependable option for his first vehicle.
Use before superlatives and ordinal numbers:
- He was the fastest person on his track team.
- The first chapter of his textbook summarized the entire curriculum.
Include with adjectives, to refer to an entire group of people:
- When I was in Greece, I found the Greek people to be very friendly and hospitable.
- He has donated a part of his check to the homeless for three years.
When an adjective, phrase, or clause describing the noun clarifies or restricts its identity:
- I really appreciated all the help you provided me while I was sick.
- The horse in the corner stall was nickering for food.
Use With the Following Proper Nouns
- Geographical areas, rivers, mountain ranges, groups of islands, canals, and oceans – We took a trip to the Smoky Mountains last summer.
- Compass Directions – The southern route was the easiest to drive.
- Countries that have plural names – Have you ever traveled through the Philippines?
- Countries that include the words “republic”, “kingdom”, or “states” in their names – The United States of America was founded on freedom and liberty.
- Names of famous buildings, works of art, museums, or monuments – The Eiffel Tower is truly a spectacular sight at night.
- Names of hotels & restaurants, unless these are named after a person – The Ritz Carlton is an iconic hotel originally located in New York.
- Names of families, but not with the names of individuals – The Davis family is very involved with community service.
- Newspaper names – The Alta News Sun is published weekly.
When Not to Use “The” With Examples
There are times when “the” is not appropriate to use. The misuse of a definite article often occurs with English language learners who are working on how to properly introduce nouns in speaking and writing.
Do not use “the”:
With the names of languages:
- English is taught in many schools around the world.
With people’s names:
- The new student’s name is Jennifer.
With towns, cities, streets, airports, and similar:
- London is a large city, but easy to navigate due to its excellent subway system.
To describe professions:
- Experienced veterinarians are in high demand due to low school enrollment.
To describe meals:
- Breakfast at the club was incredibly filling.
To introduce the name of a country (that is not plural):
- She took a trip to Spain to visit historical landmarks.
To introduce the name of a store:
- I have to stop by Alberston’s on my way home from work for groceries.
With titles, and preceding names:
- Queen Victoria was a long-lived English Monarch.
After using the -’s possessive case:
- Tommy’s truck is 18 years old but runs like new.
With individual years:
- She graduated in 1996.
With individual mountains, islands, or lakes:
- He drove to the top of Pikes Peak.
What is the Role of a Definite Article Quiz
Test your knowledge of definite article use with this quick quiz that reviews some of the examples we gave above.
1. True or false, there is more than one type of definite article.
2. Choose the definite article(s) from the list below.
3. How is a definite article used?
- It is used before a noun to specify it as something previously considered.
- To explain the details of a specific subject.
- To enhance a person’s dialog within a story.
- It is used before a verb or verb agreement in all sentences.
4. Select the sentence that provides an example of proper definite article use.
- The Queen Elizabeth was happy to be introduced to her royal subjects.
- Her mother was the only person she could talk to about the hard week she had
5. True or false, use a definite article to describe specific professions.
Despite how many rules there are, the definite article “the” is easy to use and always comes before a noun to specify a noun previously mentioned or implied, a noun being referred to by the speaker, or something unique.
When used incorrectly it often sounds wrong and is easy to correct, but it is important to understand how it should be used, especially if you are new to the English language.
Answers To The Quiz