Using THE – English Grammar Lesson

Michael Grammar Leave a Comment

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I like animals. I sometimes go to the animal shelter in my neighborhood and play with the dogs. I saw a cute dog and a cute cat yesterday. The dog was white with a brown spot on his nose. The cat was black, with some white on his belly.

Using the can be tricky for a lot of English grammar students, so today I want to show you how we can use the and how we think about using the. I’d like to focus this lesson on when we use the in the following situation. When we believe the listener knows exactly what noun we are talking about, we use the. There are five such situations.

  • Use the because there is only one of these in the world:
    • The president is going to London next week.
    • The moon is full tonight.
    • The mayor of NYC is Michael Bloomberg.
  • Use the with a superlative adjective, because here too, there is only one of these in the world:
    • Jack is the most experienced salesman in the company.
    • The Empire State Building is the tallest building in New York.
    • That brand of coffee is the cheapest one, but it tastes good
  • Use the when there is only one in the area you are in now, or in the town, city, or part of the world you are in:
    • The coffee shop on Madison Ave. has nice coffee.
    • Do you know where the remote control is?
    • What time does the post office close?
  • Use the when you mention something for the second time:
    • I saw a cute dog this morning. The dog was wearing a red sweater.
    • I bought a new cell phone with a case, but the case has a broken zipper.
    • I love Casablanca. I’ve seen the movie about ten times.
  • Use the when you are talking about a specific noun and not a random or non-specific noun. Compare these two sentences.
    • I took my sister to the doctor yesterday. I am thinking about a specific doctor, which is the doctor she always goes to. I believe you understand that situation, so I use the doctor.
    • I was on vacation in Miami and my sister got sick, so we looked for a doctor. I am not thinking of a specific doctor, but any doctor, a random doctor, one among all of the doctors in Miami. Thus, I used a doctor.

We often use the in situations like this, when we are thinking about a specific place, and even though the listener may not know the exact place we are thinking of, we believe the listener also knows we are thinking of some specific place. Here are two more examples:

  • I hate waiting in an airport for a connecting flight. Here, I am referring to any airport in general and not a specific airport.
  • I went to the airport to pick up my sister. Here, I am thinking about a specific airport, which is the airport my sister was flying into.

Here are a few more examples of using the this way:

  • I usually get to the train station at 7:00am. I am thinking of the station I always go to and I believe you understand that situation.
  • I hate going to the motor vehicle department.
  • I went to the post office to buy stamps.

The list of rules and exceptions to using the is long and those rules are often rather abstract. I hope the lesson I showed you here is helpful for studying the most difficult word in English.

If you know anyone who might be interested in this English language point, why not help them out! Just share this lesson with them. Thanks for studying today!

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