Using the Definite Article

On Using the Definite Article

Normally an indefinite article (a, an; some with plural) is used when a noun is first mentioned. The definite article is used if that noun is mentioned again. (“Some” is not actually an indefinite article, but it sometimes function as a plural indefinite article)

  • I see a dog. It looks dangerous. Don’t go near the dog.
  • I see (some) dogs. They look dangerous. Don’t go near the dogs.
  • I am looking for a friend. Ah, I see the friend I was looking for.

The definite article may also be used if other words in the sentence make it clear that the reference is to a particular noun.

  • There is the boy everyone is waiting for. This is the pond in which we will fish.

No definite article is used with a possessive.

  • That is my horse. It is his house. Don’t write in her book. You can drive Dad’s car.

Normally a definite article is not used with proper names. The only exception is an ironic use, where “the” implies, “the well-known or famous”.

  • Well imagine that, here comes the Brad Pitt.

Normally a definite article is not used with abstract nouns.

  • Superman defended Truth, Justice, and the American Way. (Note: ‘Truth’ and ‘Justice’ are abstract nouns; ‘the American way’ is one particular way among others)
  • We need to preserve nature. Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
  • Socrates gave his life for philosophy. Save humanity from extinction.

The definite article is used with a singular noun when referring to a species of animals as such.

  • The lion is the king of beasts.
  • The wolf is a noble creature.
  • The polar bear is in danger of losing its habitat.
  • Bees pollinate flowers. (Plural, no article)
  • Whales are highly intelligent creatures.
  • Because whales are over-hunted, the whale has become threatened. (I don’t like the switch from plural to singular, though).

The word “Man” to refer to the species is no longer used. It was used without an article, but has been replaced with terms such as humanity or humankind.

  • Heroes of the future, if humanity is to have a future, will be peacemakers not warriors.
  • Helen Ready sang, “I am Woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore . . .”
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