If you’re unsure what a definite article is, you’ve come to the right place! Knowing when to use definite and indefinite articles can be a confusing part of learning English, so we’ve put together this simple guide to help you out.
Definite Articles: A Definition
To understand what a definite article is, you need to know what an article is. Articles are adjectives placed before a noun to introduce it. The main ones in English (and, according to most definitions, the only articles) are “a,” “an,” and “the.”
A definite article is used to talk about a specific noun. And in English, there’s only one: “the”! A specific noun can mean several things. Use the definite article when:
There’s Only One of a Certain Type of Noun
If there’s only one of something, you should use “the” to specify that. For example:
The sun is hiding today.
The King of England is Charles III.
Will you be watching the Oscars?
This also applies if there’s more than one noun, but only one relating to a certain context. For example:
The library is down the street.
We haven’t met the teacher yet.
The can opener is on the counter.
In this sense, you also use “the” if a noun is described along with a superlative adjective. For example:
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She’s the tallest girl in the group.
The smallest house on the block is ours.
You’ve Already Mentioned the Noun
If you use a noun, you can use “the” the second time you refer to it because the reader will already know which one you’re talking about. For example:
Pick an apple from the fridge, and then cut the apple into slices.
I saw a woman walking a dog down the street. When the woman got to the park, she let the dog off its leash.
You’re Generalizing a Plural Noun
You should use “the” if you’re talking about a shared feature of a collective noun. This is common in scientific or academic language. It’s also how we often describe musical instruments. For example:
The human brain is very complex.
The shark is the most feared sea creature.
I love to play the piano.
Are you learning to play the drums?
Using Definite Articles With Proper Nouns
Since the names of people and places are already specific, they don’t always need a definite article:
Italy is beautiful.
The Italy is beautiful.
Jane is coming over.
The Jane is coming over.
However, if the name of a proper noun is plural, such as the Philippines or the Rocky Mountains, then it does need a definite article. And if the name includes a more general noun, such as Kingdom, States, or Republic (e.g., the United States), then it also needs a definite article.
“The” is the only definite article in English, and it’s used for specific nouns, where the reader knows exactly which one you’re talking about. To learn more, check out our common writing errors guide. Or if you’d like to have your work checked by a professional to make sure you’re using articles correctly, we’re happy to help! Try it out for free!