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Definite Article

‘The’ is among the most common words we used in English. There are no other definite articles in English but ‘the’. Contextually, it’s used when the listener knows what the speaker is talking about.

The essential function of the definite article

The purpose of the definite article is to introduce something which has either been aforementioned or is contextually already known. 


  • I was walking past The New York Public Library when I decided to go into the library to do some research.
  • I fed the dog. 
  • I really liked the film you recommended.

It can be used to introduce a particular object (in contrast to the indefinite article ‘a’/’an’ which is used to refer to nonspecific objects). 


  • My office is the one with the red door. 
  • She’s the doctor I saw last time. 

You should use the definite article when referring to things that can only be singular in everyday speech.


  • The moon is full tonight. 
  • At the moment, the sun is setting around 5 pm. 
  • The world is a beautiful place if you choose to see it. 

Other functions of the definite article

Here are other times you will need the definite article alongside examples.


  • To introduce superlatives, e.g. ‘the tallest boy’
  • To introduce ordinal numbers, e.g. ‘on the third day’
  • For adjectives describing groups, e.g. ‘the Spanish’
  • With time periods, e.g. ‘the 1800s’
  • With clauses using the word ‘only’, e.g. ‘you’re the only one for me’
  • With proper nouns, e.g. ‘the Antarctic’ 
  • With pluralised countries, e.g. ‘the Philippines’
  • With the names of publications, e.g. ‘the Guardian’ 
  • The names of specific buildings including galleries, e.g. ‘the National Portrait Gallery’
  • The names of families, e.g. ‘the Joneses’ 

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