English The Definite Article


Learn when and how to use the definite article "the" for singular and plural nouns.

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In English, the definite article, “the,” is used when referring to a person or thing previously mentioned or specifically known from before. For example:

I like the cake you made.

In this example, “the cake” is something that was already made and the speaker and addressee (the maker of the cake) already have mentioned. Another example is:

Did you see the weather report for today?

In the above question, “the” is understood to refer to a local weather report and it does not even need to have been mentioned in an earlier conversation.

“The” can be used for both singular and plural nouns, countable and non-countable alike. It is also used before a group, class, nationality, or a species:

The Chinese are making big strides in technological progress.

The dolphin is known for its intelligence.
The definite article also precedes proper nouns that are geographical features (i.e. mountains, rivers, oceans): the Rocky Mountains, the Nile, the Atlantic (Ocean). Other proper nouns (not specific people) that take “the” include places and things such as the Museum of Metropolitan Art (MOMA), the Washington Monument, the L.A. Times, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

One exception to the rule about people and proper names is when differentiating between two people with identical names. For example, you might know someone named George Clooney (not the famous actor), and mentioning this to someone might elicit the response: 

You know the George Clooney?!  -No, he is not the famous George Clooney you are thinking of.

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.