The Articles (4)
And now to food and meal times. Look at this telephone conversation:
A; I can’t talk to you at the moment because we’re in the middle of breakfast
B: Breakfast at this time!
A; Well yes, so it’s a late breakfast.
This shows we don’t have an article before meals unless of course the noun describing the meal (lunch, tea, dinner) is qualified (has an adjective.)
Now let’s stop being indefinite and talk about being definite. The definite article is ‘the’, pronounced as a short ‘e’ before a consonant sound and with a long ‘e’ before a vowel sound.
If something is unique, it means literally that there is only one. And that noun/word requires the definite article to indicate its uniqueness. Hundreds of years ago people believed that if you sailed in a boat right to as far as you could see, you would then fall off the edge and disappear into goodness knows where. Nowadays we know course this isn’t the case because we know: The earth is round. Just one earth then, one sun, one moon and one world. They all need the definite article ‘the’ before them and remember with the word ‘earth’ we need to pronounce the article with a long ‘e’. Apparently there are those who won’t accept that the earth is round and they have formed a society called ‘The Flatearthers’. Now their geography might be a little unreal but they still remember the rule about the definite article and proclaim: The earth is flat.
Sometimes in the course of conversation or indeed in something written, ‘a’ can change to ‘the’ because the noun to which ‘a’ is attached has been mentioned before. Let me elucidate - They lived in a house not far from where we lived. So far we know it was a house, not a flat in which they lived. Now in the next sentence we have to bear in mind this piece of information and when we talk about the place in which they lived, we change ‘a’ to ‘the’ as in: The house was very big and had six bedrooms. We have used ‘the’ because we now know which house is being described. Again when we add an additional piece of information (a description if you like) to a noun, we also use ‘the’ as in: Can you see her? I’m talking about that woman in row one, the woman with the bright red hat. It is a particular woman we’re talking about the woman with the red hat. Let’s imagine you are in a friend’s house. You’ve never been there before in your life. The place is totally unknown to you. Now you ask your friend if you can have a glass. The friend replies: Of course you can, you’ll find one in the kitchen. But why the kitchen, you ask? The answer is that you are in a house and you assume that that house has a kitchen and because you are in the house, there must also be a kitchen and because of your location in the house at the time, your friend refers to ‘the’ kitchen. You are probably familiar with the degrees of comparison that are possible with an adjective (Remember ‘an’!). If two things are the same, they are at the positive stage - as good as each other. The next stage is comparative as in: This one is better than that one. At the top we have the superlative form ‘best’. This last one requires the definite article: the best/the worst/the easiest/the longest and so on. As we all know, words in English can change their function or job in a sentence. With the help of the definite article an adjective can become a noun: This part of town is where the rich live. ‘Rich’ the adjective has now become a noun and we’re talking about ‘the rich people’. Again: This part of town is where the poor live. With names of seas, rivers, chains of mountains, groups of islands and plural names of countries we need the definite article again: The Pacific – the Atlantic – the Thames – the Nile –the Appalachians – the Alps – the West Indies – the Netherlands.. Now let’s end with a little bit of music as the definite article comes before musical instruments. In their house Charlie plays the drums, Susan plays the organ, David plays the trombone and Michael plays the double bass. What a noise (remember that use of the indefinite article?) they make when they all play together!
Finally we have to note when the definite article is not needed: with proper names or names of towns and countries: Samantha has moved from Copenhagen in Denmark and now lives in New York in America. It’s not used before abstract nouns – I’ll refer you back to what I said earlier about these nouns - Fear is one of those emotions that it’s very difficult to control. And the definite article is replaced usually with a possessive adjective (my/your/her and so on) with articles of clothing and parts of the body: He was a very polite gentleman and always lifted his hat with his right hand whenever he met a lady.
Let’s go back to the very beginning of my conversation when I said I could have called this piece ‘The Articles’ but I chose to write simply ‘Articles’... I hope it is clear why I decided to do that. It isn’t? Then let me explain. I am hoping I’ve made it clear that the definite article by its very name indicates something precise and significant. What I wanted to suggest in the title was a very general heading as with all the topics in these conversations and then in what I write in the main text there should be the details.
If you have any English grammar or vocabulary questions,
please post them on this English Grammar Forum.