When should we use the word THE, and when not?
In a sentence, when we mention something / somebody (a noun) for the first time, we normally use an indefinite article – A or AN. This is because until now, it is an unknown entity (person or thing).
- My friend has A red car.
- There is AN old man at the door.
When we talk about this same something / somebody the next time, we tend to use the definite article because now we know exactly what / whom we are talking about.
- THE big red car is a Ford Granada.
- THE old man at the door wants to come in.
But there are times when we don’t need to use either article. Read the following:
- When we talk about things in general, we don’t need to use the word THE.
- I like cheese, all kinds of cheese; (not ‘the cheese’.)
- My friend likes books with pictures in them.
- Boys like girls with long hair.
- Dogs and cats make nice pets.
- Apples are very tasty, don’t you think?
- For names and proper nouns, (generally) we don’t use the word THE.
- We are going on holiday at Easter; (not ‘the Easter’.)
- I have lived in Spain for many years.
- He goes to school on Mondays.
- Mount Everest is over 8,848 metres high.
- I speak English.
- There are other times when we don’t use the word THE, but the most important are:
- uncountable nouns (bread, water, coffee, sugar, etc.)
- plural countable nouns (children, exams, dogs, cats, etc.)
- weekdays and months (Monday, Tuesday, December, March etc.)
- singular names of places, (India, London, Australia, Canada, etc.)
- languages and nationalities (English, French, Japanese, German, etc.)
- sports (football, tennis, golf, gymnastics, etc.)
However, we DO use the word THE, when a name / proper noun is plural:
- the United States
- the Swiss Alps
- the Canary Islands
NOTE: Both of the following sentences are correct:
- He booked the hotel in advance and the accommodation was good.
- Good hotel accommodation is often difficult to find.
- Sentence Nº1 – says THE accommodation, because it refers to the ‘booked’ accommodation.
- Sentence Nº2 – doesn’t use an article because it refers to accommodation in general.