The definite article: 'the'

Level: beginner

The definite article the is the most frequent word in English.

We use the definite article in front of a noun when we believe the listener/reader knows exactly what we are referring to:

  • because there is only one:

The Pope is visiting Russia.
The moon is very bright tonight.
Who is the president of France?

This is why we use the definite article with a superlative adjective:

He is the tallest boy in the class.
It is the oldest building in the town.

  • because there is only one in that context:

We live in a small house next to the church. (= the church in our village)
Dad, can I borrow the car? (= the car that belongs to our family)
When we stayed at my grandmother’s house, we went to the beach every day. (= the beach near my grandmother’s house)
Look at the boy over there. (= the boy I am pointing at)

  • because we have already mentioned it:

A young man got a nasty shock when he tried to rob a jewellery shop in Richmond. The man used a heavy hammer to smash the windows in the shop.

We also use the definite article:

  • to say something about all the things referred to by a noun:

The wolf is not really a dangerous animal. (= Wolves are not really dangerous animals.)
The kangaroo is found only in Australia. (= Kangaroos are found only in Australia.)
The heart pumps blood around the body. (= Hearts pump blood around bodies.)

We use the definite article in this way to talk about musical instruments:

Joe plays the piano really well.
She is learning the guitar.

  • to refer to a system or service:

How long does it take on the train?
I heard it on the radio.
You should tell the police.

The definite article the 1

Matching_MTU3MDQ

The definite article the 2

GapFillDragAndDrop_MTU3MDU

The definite article the 3

GapFillTyping_MTU3MDY

 

Level: intermediate

We can also use the definite article with adjectives like rich, poor, elderly and unemployed to talk about groups of people: 

Life can be very hard for the poor.
I think the rich should pay more taxes.
She works for a group to help the disabled.

 

 

Level: beginner

The definite article with names

We do not normally use the definite article with names:

William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.
Paris is the capital of France.
Iran is in Asia.

But we do use the definite article with:

  • countries whose names include words like kingdom, states or republic:
the United Kingdom the Kingdom of Bhutan
the United States the People's Republic of China
  •  countries which have plural nouns as their names:
the Netherlands the Philippines
  • geographical features, such as mountain ranges, groups of islands, rivers, seas, oceans and canals:
the Himalayas the Canaries the Atlantic (Ocean) the Amazon the Panama Canal
  • newspapers:
The Times The Washington Post
  • well-known buildings or works of art:
the Empire State Building the Taj Mahal the Mona Lisa
  • organisations:
the United Nations the Seamen's Union
  • hotels, pubs and restaurants:
the Ritz the Ritz Hotel the King's Head the Déjà Vu

But note that we do not use the definite article if the name of the hotel or restaurant is the name of the owner:

Brown's Brown's Hotel Morel's Morel's Restaurant
  • families:
the Obamas the Jacksons
The definite article with names 1

Grouping_MTU3MDc=

The definite article with names 2

 GapFillTyping_MTU3MDg=

The definite article with names 3

GapFillTyping_MTU3MDk=

The definite article with names 4

GapFillTyping_MTU3MTA=

 

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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 22/12/2013 - 11:06

In reply to by veeraraghavan

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Hi veeraraghavan,

The definite article is used for unique things, true, but this is rather a subset of a broader rule: that the definite article is used with things that are identified and recognised by both the speaker and listener (writer and reader).  This could be because they are unique, because they are shared (for example, because both the speaker and listener can see the object) or because they have been previously mentioned.

The correct sentence would be 'the man from the Netherlands'.  The preposition does not change the requirement for the definite article in any way.  Similarly, in your earlier example we would not say 'the boy in blue shirt' but rather 'the boy in the blue shirt'.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by veeraraghavan on Fri, 20/12/2013 - 01:42

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Hi

I have a confusion. Please help me.

Can we say that we use the article 'the' either to refer to a subject which is known to the speaker and listener or to bring a specific subject to the attention of the listener?

In the example " The boy in the blue shirt", why is it necessary to use 'the' before blue? Will it be Okay to say " The boy in blue shirt" because 'blue shirt' itself is enough to identify the boy the speaker is referring to?

Is there a rule that the noun preceded by an adjective should be used with 'the'?

Or can we say the phrase ' the blue shirt ' gives an additional information that the boy the speaker referring to is the only boy wearing  blue shirt?

Please help me.

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 20/12/2013 - 14:21

In reply to by veeraraghavan

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Hi veeraraghavan,

The most general useful rule is what is explained at the top of this page: the is used when we believe the hearer/reader knows what we are talking about.

At the top of the chart in which "the boy in the blue shirt" appears it explains that the can be used when there is only one of something in a place. So in this example, the is used to indicate that there is only one boy wearing a blue shirt in that place. In other contexts, the might not be necessary in a similar sentence - it really depends on the context.

There is no rule that the must be used with a noun preceded by an adjective.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kat-G on Mon, 16/12/2013 - 14:25

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Hello, I have a question regarding usage of the definite article before people's names. I know that, according to the English grammar rules, it can not be used there, but do any exceptions exist? I mean, if for example, I put an adjective before some famous person's name, shouldn't I use the definite article before that adjective. It seems to me that I learnt something like that at university years ago but now I can hardly remember it. Subconsciously I always intend to use "the" in such cases, but I am full of doubts. Could you please dispel them? Thanks. 

Hello Kat-G,

You are correct that, usually, we do not use the definite article before people's names.  However, there are exceptions, as you say, when there is an adjective before the name. For example:

I met Lady Thatcher in 2002.

but

I met the famous Lady Thatcher in 2002.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ritesh46 on Sun, 08/12/2013 - 20:50

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 i do not understand repeating word brown's;brown's  hotel.morel's,morel's restaurant.thank

 

Hi yogesh mani tripathi,

Brown's and Brown's Hotel are simply two different ways of referring to the same hotel. The full name is Brown's Hotel, but when speaking to others who are familiar with a place with a possessive in its name, we often just say the possessive part, e.g. Brown's, because it's a bit shorter. The same is true of Morel's and any other establishment with a similar name.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by anči17 on Mon, 02/12/2013 - 15:29

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I have problem in using definite article before certain nouns,to be precise with names of newspapers.We say The Times,The Gardian,but we say Politika and Borba? Or Cosmopolitan?I really need help.

Hi anci17,

The rule about using "the" with the names of newspapers applies to English-language newspapers; generally, newspapers in other languages are referred to as they are in the languages they are published in.

Cosmopolitan is a magazine, not a newspaper - that is why "the" is not used with it.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by JJcat on Tue, 05/11/2013 - 22:05

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Hi Adam, I understand and really appreciate your answers. Cheers. JJ

Submitted by JJcat on Sun, 03/11/2013 - 17:04

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Hi, just want to add some questions to my previous comment. 5. In a novel, the author says "I felt frozen to the bones." Can I say "I felt frozen to bones." as how we would use the phrase, "to death", to exaggerate specific feelings, if the coldness is not really hitting my bones? 6. The same author wrote: "With bent backs, hands in pockets and guns under our arms, Karl and I strode along." which I think is much better and more concise than "With the bent backs, our hands in our pockets and the guns under our arms, Karl and I strode along." I believe the author didn't intend to imply any general meanings on those nouns. He/She only contrived to make the words less redundant. The readers can perfectly get the meaning, but according to the grammar rules, what the author wrote, considering what he/she wanted to convey, are wrong, aren't they? Or my interpretation is wrong, and in fact the author meant to give the readers different feelings with those zero articles? Cheers, JJ

Submitted by JJcat on Sun, 03/11/2013 - 00:15

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I've been having serious problems with using/not using definite articles. It's fine when I'm receiving information; I understand the meaning perfectly. But, like what has been mentioned in this thread, since the difference between using/not using definite articles is so little, when it comes my own writing, I always struggle with the nuance, which holds my thoughts back all the time. Take some sentences of a random news at hand(http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/02/pakistan-taliban-leader-us-drone-strike) as examples: 1. "A Pakistani government minister said the strike by an unmanned aircraft on Friday had destroyed attempts to hold peace talks with the militants which began this week." ->I would've put a "the" in front of "attempts" because I would've thought in this reported speech, the government minister would've assumed the listeners had known what the "attempts" meant when he announced it. Am I wrong? What's the nuance of them? 2. "Although Mehsud's four-year tenure as head of Pakistan's most feared militant group has been marked by horrific attacks that have killed scores of soldiers, government officials and civilians, his death looked likely to provoke fury among some politicians who believe the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) should be brought in to peace talks." ->I would've written "the head of Pakistan's most feared militant group" instead of no article before "head." Also, I would take out "the" in "the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)," which I thought it's very specific already. I googled if the original name of TTP contains "the." Big discrepancy. Even they themselves don't know whether their official name starts with "the" or not. My question is, if someday I'd like to form an institution, say "JJcat pet shop", how do I decide if I should put "the"? 3. "All political parties unanimously supported government attempts to negotiate with the TTP at a meeting in September." -> I would've gone: "All the political parties unanimously supported the government attempts to negotiate with the TTP at a meeting in September." Again, I believe it's not to do with the perfect correctness, but the nuance that I can't tell. It hinders my writing flow and kills the joy of expressing myself in English. 4. Finally, is it awkward to say "light of the sun" rather than "the light of the sun"? I rarely hear people saying the former. However, imaging I'm living in Arctic. Now it's winter and I miss sunlight. If I say: "I miss the light of the sun," wouldn't it be confusing that what I'm missing is only the sunlight in summer in the Arctic?
Hello, Thanks for your comment. I hope you understand that we have a lot of users on LearnEnglish and we're not a big team, so I won't be able to answer all your questions in detail. I'll do what I can, though. 1. You are not wrong and you understand the difference in meaning which adding 'the' would cause. This is an example of how articles communicate meaning and how changing one would slightly change the message of the minister. (Of course, this minister may not have originally spoken in English!) 2. Much the same applies here as in 1. Often as time goes on, articles get dropped from familiar names. 3. Your sentence would be fine. It's really a question of style, not of correctness in this case. 4. No, I don't think the sentence would be confusing in this way and you need 'the' before 'light of the sun'. 5. This is a very unusual usage; I imagine the writer used it for a stylistic reason to sound different from more usual ways of describing the cold. 6. It would be strange to put 'the' before 'bent backs', but adding or removing 'our' before hands, pockets etc. is, as you say, more about trying to make the prose concise. Sorry I don't have time to answer in more detail; it would require a mini-essay to thoroughly respond to all your points. Best wishes, Adam The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vidyaarthi on Sun, 27/10/2013 - 14:39

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I understand 'we should help the poor.' But is 'We should help the poor people.' wrong? Should we write it as 'We should help poor people.'
Hello Vidyaarthi, Both of those sentences are correct, but the meaning is slightly different: 'We should help the poor people.' - This suggests we are talking about a specific group of poor people, such as the poor people in a certain city or location. 'We should help poor people.' - This suggests we are talking about poor people in general, and commenting about the morality of helping those in financial difficulty. 'We should help the poor' is very similar in meaning to the section sentence. I hope that clarifies it for you. Best wishes, Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by PrashantShakun on Thu, 24/10/2013 - 17:36

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"English is the national language of the english." Is this sentence correct? Please give reasons
Hello PrashantShakun, The sentence is correct, apart from the capital letter missing from the last word ('...the English'). We can use the definite article with plural nouns describing nationalities when we want to refer to the country or nationality as a whole. For example: 'President Obama contacted the British last night.' [He contacted the British state/government] 'The Irish are good singers.' [The Irish people] In your sentence 'the English' refers to the whole of the English people and it is correct. Best wishes, Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ranko on Sun, 20/10/2013 - 05:34

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Hi! I have a question. I just took a practice IELTS listening test. The section 1 was gap filling questions. "Complete the notes below". There are several gaps on the note and one of them was "Nearest bus stop : next to ..." I wrote down "the library" but the answer was "library". Is my answer wrong? I'm sure the speaker said "the library" because I checked the transcript. Because this is just a note, you don't need to write "the"? I'm a little confused. Thanks!
Hello Ranko, It's hard for me to comment on the specifics of one test without having seen it but in general the IELTS test takes into account the context around the gap, which can mean that and answer with an article may be inappropriate. On the British Council's Take IELTS pages (http://takeielts.britishcouncil.org) you can find some specific tips and guidance for this paper: http://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/prepare-your-test/test-day-advice/listening-test-advice One of the points listed there, which may be relevant, is this: "if the question asks you to complete the note ‘in the…’ and the correct answer is ‘morning’, note that ‘in the morning’ would be incorrect; the correct answer is 'morning'" Check the exact text of the question; perhaps this is the source of the problem. However, as I said, it's not really possible for me to clarify it without looking through the test and the text of the listening myself. Best wishes and good luck when you take the IELTS for real! Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by tom121 on Thu, 26/09/2013 - 05:05

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Hi,

Why is it just 'Big Ben' rather than 'the Big Ben', for what the Elizabeth clock tower in London is commonly known?

 

Thanks :)

Hello tom121,

Although it looks like a description, 'Big Ben' is actually treated as a proper noun (i.e. a name) like London, St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and so, like most proper nouns, has no article.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by shameek agarwal on Thu, 19/09/2013 - 12:32

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I arrived in _ USA yesterday.

I visited the Tower yesterday.

Why is it so? Is it because a particular tower is being referred to in the second case? But while speaking of Netherlands, we don't simply say Netherlands, we say The Netherlands. Has it's name been found in such a way?I would be glad if you could help me out with this right now.

SHAMEEK

Hi Shameek,

It is not standard English to say "I arrived in USA" - we always say "the USA". If you look under The definite article with names where there are two parts about countries, you'll see the explanation of why we say the Netherlands and the USA.

If you look a few lines below the explanation of the with countries, where it says well known buildings, you'll see the explanation for the Tower, which here presumably refers to the Tower of London.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cri2013 on Wed, 18/09/2013 - 15:33

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Hi! Thanks for this useful site!

I always have doubts when to is or not use the article "the": i recently wrote :

"To all may friends", and few lines afterwards "also to friends from the other months", making a joke about my typing mistake of the first sentence (may instead of my) ..

 

My doubt is : should I have written "also to my friends from other months" instead?

What a life!

Thanks,

Cri

 

Hi Cri,

Often it's the grammar that is similar, but not identical to, our native language(s) that is the most frustrating. It's great that you have a sense of humour about it!

Both "from the other months" and "from other months" are correct, though for me there is a very slight difference in meaning. To my ear, "from the other months" means from all eleven of the other months and "from other months" just means from any other month. This difference isn't important for what you're writing, but I thought I would mention it to you.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sheikh Irfan on Fri, 13/09/2013 - 18:10

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Hi
I am more than happy to find this useful site which I believe established a good accord with my liking  just within few minutes.I am very much satisfied with the content and guidance and believe I will find solutions to almost all language problems.Great initiative.

Submitted by MayelaM on Wed, 04/09/2013 - 01:27

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Hi,  When talking about group of people using adjectives as rich, poor, elderly, etc the article "the" is used as in the phrase "I think the rich should pay more taxes", does it change when including the group being referred to (people)? See phrases below:

Rich people should pay more taxes vs The rich people should pay more taxes

Which one is the correct phrase.... Thanks

Hi MayelaM,

When talking about the category of people in general, we would say:

 

'Rich people...'

or

'The rich...'  

 

We would not use the definite article with the noun 'people' to talk about this category of people in general.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rikki on Thu, 22/08/2013 - 18:38

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Hello,

I am wondering about this case:

"In Appendix A" or "in the Appendix A"?

There is only one, but I wouldn't say "In the Section 2.3".

Thank you for advice!

Hello rikki,

We would say 'in Appendix A', just as we would say 'in Chapter One' and 'in Part One'.  We treat these as names and so do not add a definite article.  For other parts of a book we do add definite articles: 'the introduction', 'the preface', 'the index', 'the glossary' etc.  We also use a definite article if we use 'appendix' or 'chapter' on its own: 'Did you find it in the appendix?'

 

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by thanhhuyen123 on Tue, 20/08/2013 - 04:09

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Hi. I just want to know now how we use "the" with a defined subject.

For instance:

- the Decree No. 123/2007 of the Government, or just Decree No. 123/2007?

- the District 1 or just District 1?

If you could reply soon, it will be very appreciated. Thanks a lot.

Hi thanhhuyen123,

Both of those examples sound more natural to me without an article because we treat 'Decree No. XXXXX' and 'District 1' as names.  Another example would be 'law'.  For example:

'He broke the law against littering.' [a specific and defined law]

but

'He broke law 35b against littering.' [the name of a given law]

 

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aavi on Thu, 15/08/2013 - 20:50

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sir I have a query regarding to th following example.

Look at the boy in the blue shirt.

I am not clear about using second 'the' in this example.

Thanks.

Hello aavi,

We use 'the' when both speaker and listener know which object is being talked about, so here we can be sure that the speaker knows that the listener understands which blue shirt he or she means.  This may be because the there is only one blue shirt visible, or because it is obvious which blue shirt is being talked about (only one is close, for example, or the speaker is pointing to it, or it has been talked about before).

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team 

Submitted by lazy-cow on Mon, 05/08/2013 - 21:17

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Please, can you tell me if there are any particular rules for using articles with military ranks? I encountered the following in Maugham's stories:

He was general of the rebellious troops. (why not 'the general'?)

...he would be minister of war (why not 'the Minister of war'?)

Thank you very much in advance!

Hello lazy-cow,

Those are quite unusual examples and I would use an article in each sentence, personally.  However, high ranks can be used as titles, so the new royal baby, for example, is called 'His Royal Highness Prince of Cambridge' (not 'the Prince of Cambridge').  My best guess at why there are no articles in the examples you provide is that Maugham was treating the ranks as titles in a similar way.

Thank you for an interesting question!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ana_olivia on Wed, 31/07/2013 - 19:32

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Hello,

I'd like to know when I use the article "the" after "before" and "after".

Ex. I do my homework before lunch.

I do my homework after classes (or after the class)?

Thanks

Hello Ana_olivia,

In your example sentences we would say:

I do my homework before lunch (no article)

and

I do my homework after class / after classes (no article)

 

However, when we use 'the' doesn't depend on the words 'before' or 'after', it simply follows the normal rules - which you can find here.

I hope that answers your question.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dragonele on Tue, 18/06/2013 - 21:33

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Why do we use 'the' before the names of dances. For example, the tango. Which 'rule' does this fall under? Thanks!

Hello Dragonele,

I usually teach my students that we use the definite article with dances and musical instruments.  For example:

Can you play the guitar?

I love the piano.

I'm learning the tango.

She dances the waltz beautifully.

It's a rule of use (a category of words we use with these articles) rather than a conceptual rule (specific vs general and so on).

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by zuzapogo on Sat, 01/06/2013 - 11:14

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Hi All!

sorry for bothering, I'm just struggling with "Terms of Use" which I'm now working on...

 

Let us have a DEFINITION of an ARTist: 

"ARTist- a person who has been/ was studying visual ART at any ARTuniversity and who opens an ARTaccount on NPUART's wesbsite."

Question: When describing what ARTists are obliged to do etc., am I allowed to use "the" in front of the singular noun e.g. "The ARTist is obliged to...." ?

=> I guess it could be correct (?) according to the above-mentioned rule:  "to say something about all the things referred to by a noun"

I would be really grateful for any help, because i got really confused about that! :)

 

Hello zuzapogo,

 

You're not bothering us at all - we're here to help, after all!

Articles is a difficult area and one that even the most advanced learners often have questions about.  The example you give above ('The artist is obliged to...') is fine, for the reason you give.  Well done - you've understood the rule and your example is correct.

You can find more information on and practice with a range of determiners here (click).

You can find specific information on the definite article here (click).

Good luck!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by brachm on Mon, 20/05/2013 - 20:51

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HI!

It's really hard to get a grip of articles and I have some troubles with translation for my friend. It's a short text about the city I live in.

Is it correct to say: "The magical XXX" (like London, Vienna, or any other city) or should I rather miss the article out. This phrase is not a part of a sentence. It is a title of a short text encouraging people to visit our city and emphasizing its beauty and air. So I think that the article the is a way of giving people the clue what the article is about.

I will be very grateful fo your suggestions!

Hi brachm,

Articles are a difficult area, it's true.  It sounds like you're very confident with them, however.

I think in this context I would leave out the article.  'Magical ...' sounds more natural, especially as it will be a title and not put into a direct context by anything before or immediately after it.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Victoria B. on Sat, 13/04/2013 - 10:44

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Hello! A question from an English teacher struggling to explain to her students the use of articles with names of people. We've covered the basic rules with no problems. Then we came across the following examples:

1) "I am the celebrated Mortimer Ellis," he said.

2) The dinner was served by a silent Mrs. Keats.

3) I saw an infuriated Jennifer, who started shouting at me the moment I opened the door.

4) It seemed Walter didn't pay any attention to the tearful Kitty.

Could you please explain the rules of using articles in cases when there is an adjective before the name of the person?

Thank you.

Victoria

Hello Victoria!

When you have an adjective before a proper noun, in general you should apply the normal article rules.

In 1, Mortimer Ellis is known to be (or believe he is known to be) famous - something that would (in his mind) be shared knowledge. Here we use the.

In 2 and 3, presumably the writer does not know that Mrs. Keats would be silent or that Jenny was angry. This is new information, so they use a. If the writer has laready explained that Keats is always silent or Jenny is always angry, they might have chosen the.

 

4 is more difficult. However, as usual, once a noun has been introduced, we change to the definite article. Sentence 4 would come after a sentence saying, perhaps, Kitty was crying, so in context, it might read:
Kitty was crying. However, Walter didn't pay any attention to the tearful Kitty.

Hope that helps!

 

Regards

 

Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sayantanee mukherjee on Mon, 18/03/2013 - 17:19

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Hi! I am Sayantanee a student reading in class vii. The exercises were of of different kinds but I have enjoyed it.

Submitted by Bronia on Fri, 15/03/2013 - 10:44

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I am an English teacher and I am having trouble explaining to my students why they should not use the definite article when discussing "society". Eg. Society's response to this anti-social behaviour...