Mon. Apr 22nd, 2024

Most times when we write or speak,we do not often realise the semantic implication of using or not using the definite article THE. Something will change in the interpretation of a statement with the usage of the definite article.

This piece examines the usages of the definite article and how these usages change the intended meaning.

The first and the obvious usage of the definite article is to particularise a noun or indicate that the noun is known to the participants involved. The noun may be known also by being mentioned the second time.


The book is out-of-print

There is a tree in the garden. The tree is an oak. (Being mentioned the second time).

The definite article is used before a unique name of a thing in nature. I can confidently say:
The sun
The moon
The sky

A whole class can be represented by a single word through the use of a definite article.

“The cow is a useful animal ” is never a reference to one cow but a reference to all cows.

However, the common nouns Man and Woman that are used to represent the whole class never agree with the definite article.

Man is mortal. (This refers to all men)

Woman is man’s mate. (This refers to all women)

In a noun indicating the race or nation, the definite article indicates the whole class.

The Chinese are hardworking. Removing the definite article will change the nation to the language spoken.

Chinese is easy to learn. In this case, Chinese is a language.

Ordinal numbers are usually preceded by a definite article.

Are you the first person?

Countries like UK and USA that are collectively formed usually agree with the definite article.

Definite articles can also convert a proper last name of a family to a common name by adding the plural marker S

The Peters are very popular.

It will also interest you to know that the definite article can structurally change a word from a word class to another.

This is interesting. A definite article used before adjectives indicating the qualities of some people can represent that class of people and function as a plural subject.

The poor are really suffering. The poor, in that sentence, implies poor people.

However, a few nouns formed from the past participle often refer to either one person or more than one person.

The accused was/were found guilty of manslaughter. In this case, the accused can be a person or more than one person.

Also, here too,

The deceased left the money to his/ their wives. The formation of nouns through adjectives derived past participle can lead to a STRUCTURAL AMBIGUITY. Care should be taken to clarify the ambiguity through another pronoun.

Let’s examine this:

The accused told me what to do. There is no indication of the number of the noun in the sentence. I can clarify this by rephrasing the sentence to accommodate a pronoun that will specify the number. Examine this:

The accused told me what to do as his best friend.

Overall, as significant as articles are, there are cases where they are not needed. They are not needed before a plural count noun, before a proper noun, before abstract nouns, before man and woman representing human race and before names of seasons and festivals. It is important to use the articles appropriately because a wrong usage can affect the message we intend to convey.


Crystal.D.(2010) _Encyclopedia of The English Language_ . USA: Cambridge University Press

Das.P.C(2012) _Applied English Grammar and Composition_. New Delhi: New Central Book Agency

Jones.N etal(1985) _The Right Word at the Right Time_ London: Readers’ Digest Association

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