Free English Lessons

How To Use THE – Video

by Oli Redman on 29 August, 2014 , No comments

In this lesson, you can learn how to use the.

You’re going to see some practical tips that we’ve used with students and which can help you to use the in your spoken or written English.

You’ll see six tips and one simple technique you can use in your written English to learn how to use the correctly. These tips and tricks are easy to remember and use; you won’t need to study for hours or memorise lots of complex rules.

What language do you speak? If your language has a word like the, then the isn’t too difficult. There are some small differences, but you don’t have to think about it too much.

However, if you speak a language which doesn’t have a word like the, then learning how to use the is a nightmare!

This lesson is made more for people whose native language doesn’t have a word like the, although we hope that speakers of all languages will find it helpful.

Let’s start with a general question: what does the mean?

1. What Does ‘The’ Mean?

Have you ever thought about this? What does the mean? What does it do?

If I say to you:

  • Show me the book.

What does the mean? Why do I say the book and not a book?

The in this sentence shows that you—the listener—know which book I’m talking about.

It shows that I’m talking about a specific book, and I know you know which one I mean.

That’s what the means: it shows that you’re talking about something specific.

You can think of the as a ‘pointing’ word, like this or that. When you use the before a noun, you’re ‘pointing’ to a specific thing and saying, ‘that one’.

How To Use THE - image of pointing

So that’s the basic meaning of the. Keep this in mind, because it’s useful to remember these basic points if things get confusing.

Let’s see how you can use these ideas.

2. ‘The’ = We Know Which One You Mean.

Let’s start with some examples:

  • Can you open the window, please?
  • Is that the woman you were telling me about?
  • The Taj Mahal is really worth going to see.

When you look at these sentences, they look completely different, right? But there is a connection.

Can you see the connection? Think about why you use the in these sentences.

If I’m talking to you, in all of these three situations, you know which one I mean.

For example, if you say, Can you open the window, please? then we’re in the same room, and it will be obvious which window you mean. Sure, there are many windows in the world, but if we’re in the same room, then we know which window you’re talking about.

You can see the same idea in these sentences:

  • Where’s the bathroom?
  • I’m going to the shop.

In both of these cases, we use the because it’s obvious which one you mean.

If you’re at someone’s house, and you ask, Where’s the bathroom? we know which bathroom you mean: the bathroom in the house where you are.

If you say, I’m going to the shop again you mean that whoever you’re talking to will understand which shop you mean. Probably, you mean the local shop—one you go to often.

Let’s look at our second sentence. If I ask you, Is that the woman you were telling me about? you know who I mean.

But here, the reason is different. You know who I mean because we were talking about her before. You were telling me about her.

So, this is our second idea. You can use the if the person you’re talking to will remember which one you mean.

Here are a couple more examples of this:

  • What did you think of the film?
  • Do you remember the hotel we stayed at in Berlin?

In both of these examples, you’re referring to some kind of shared experience.

What did you think of the film? Why do you use the? Because you’re either talking about a film we saw together, or a film we’ve talked about before. Either way, when you ask this, you use the because the person you’re talking to will know which film you mean.

Do you remember the hotel we stayed at in Berlin? We both stayed at the same hotel, so you know which hotel I mean.

Okay, let’s come back to our third original sentence.

If you say, The Taj Mahal is really worth going to see why do you use the?

It’s because there’s only one Taj Mahal. We know which one you mean, because there’s only one!

Let’s see some more examples of this idea:

  • The moon is so beautiful tonight!
  • It was the happiest day of my life.

In both of these examples, you use the because you’re talking about one of something.

The person you’re talking to will know which one you mean, because the thing you’re talking about is unique.

The Earth only has one moon, so we say the moon.

You can have many happy days in your life, but only one can be the happiest, so you say the happiest day of my life.

So, you’ve seen three important ideas about using the in this section:

  1. Use the for things around you, where it’s obvious which thing you mean.
  2. Use the to refer to shared experiences—things you’ve talked about before or done together.
  3. Use the when something is unique.

These are practical, general ideas which will help you to use the correctly in English.

Next, let’s look at another simple rule that can help you.

3. How Do You Know If a Noun Needs ‘The’?

Here’s a good rule you can use, especially in your written English.

If a noun is singular and countable, it needs some kind of determiner. A singular, countable noun can’t stand by itself.

Okay, this isn’t specifically about using the, because a determiner could be something else, maybe a or this or that, or something else.

But, it’s often helpful if you’re trying to decide whether to use the or not.

Let’s look at an example:

  • Manager told us more about plan for New Year’s party.

Maybe you can already see that this sentence doesn’t look right.

Let’s apply our rule. Can you remember it?

If a noun is singular and countable, then it needs some kind of determiner, like the, a, this, that, and so on.

So, look at our sentence. How many nouns are there?

The first noun is manager. Is this singular? Yes. Is it countable? Let’s see: one manager, two managers, three managers… Yes, it’s countable.

So, it needs a determiner. It can’t stand by itself.

Probably, whoever says this sentence knows which manager they’re talking about. That means we can use the:

  • The manager told us more about plan for New Year’s party.

What about plan?

Is it singular? Is it countable?

Yes, and yes, so again, it can’t stay like it is.

Here, we say that the manager told us more. That means you already knew something about this plan.

That means you can use the. You know which plan the manager is talking about.

  • The manager told us more about the plan for New Year’s party.

What about New Year’s party?

Is it singular? Is it countable?

Yes, and yes. So, you need something.

How many New Year’s parties can there be each year? I mean, technically, you could have more than one. But generally, one company will just have one New Year’s party.

If there’s just one, then you know which one the manager’s talking about. So again, you can use the.

  • The manager told us more about the plan for the Christmas party.

Let’s do one more example:

  • Government should do more to help elderly people.

Think about this sentence. Where are the nouns? Do they need determiners or articles? Should we use the anywhere in this sentence?

Let’s use our test.

The first noun is government.

Is it singular? Yes. Is it countable? One government, two governments… Yes, it is.

So it needs a determiner.

Should we use the, or something else?

There are many governments in the world, but whenever you talk about the government, you mean ‘the government in your country.’

So, it’s clear which government you mean. That means you can use the:

  • The government should do more to help elderly people.

There’s one more noun: elderly people.

Is it singular? No. So, it doesn’t need a determiner. It can stand by itself.

However, just because it doesn’t need one doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have one. You still need to think: should you say the elderly people?

Here, you’re talking about elderly people in general. When you talk about things in general, you don’t use the. So the sentence is now correct.

  • The government should do more to help elderly people.

The test that you’ve seen in this section isn’t a magic spell. You still need to think about where to use the or not.

However, it’s simple and it does help. Use this in your written English and you will make fewer mistakes with the. Trust me—we’ve seen this work for many students.

Okay, so now you’ve seen some simple but important ideas to help you decide when to use the.

But, part of using the correctly is knowing when not to use the.

So, let’s talk about that!

4. When Not to Use ‘The’

We just mentioned one case where you shouldn’t use the. Do you remember?

Don’t use the if you’re talking about things in general.

For example:

  • Greek food is both healthy and tasty.

–> You’re talking about all Greek food, in general.

  • I hate shopping for clothes.

–> I hate shopping for all clothes, all the time. I’m not talking about some specific clothes.

  • Football is more popular than basketball in most countries.

–> Again, everything here is general. You’re talking about football in general, basketball in general, and countries in general. Nothing is specific here.

So that’s your first important rule. Don’t use the if you’re talking about things in general.

This is a really solid rule. It works well, so you should definitely remember it.

There’s another useful point here: don’t use the with most names.

When we say ‘names’, we mean nouns that you’d write with a capital letter.

This works most of the time. There are a lot of exceptions, but if you remember, ‘don’t use the with names’, you’ll be right more often than not.

Obviously, if you know the detailed rules, then that’s better. However, if you’re in a situation where you don’t know whether to use the or not, then use this rule. It works most of the time.

So, this means: don’t use the with people’s names:

  • I met the Jamie.

Don’t use the with names of cities or countries:

  • The Stockholm is the capital of the Sweden.

Don’t use the with names of streets or other city features:

  • The Queen’s Park is near the Broad Street.

Don’t use the with the names of schools, companies, universities or other institutions:

  • Bill Gates dropped out of the Harvard to start the Microsoft.

How To Use THE - Bill Gates image

I know what some of you are thinking…

What about The United States? What about The Hilton? What about…?

Yes, of course there are exceptions. There are exceptions to everything! That’s not the point.

Remember what we’re trying to do here: this is a simple trick that you can carry in your head and which is easy to use. It will work most of the time.

There’s one more simple tip here: don’t use the with another determiner.

Determiners include this, that, these, those, possessive adjectives like my, your, his, or her as well as quantifiers like many, much, a lot of, each, every, and so on.

So you can’t use the in examples like:

  • I like the this one more than the that one.
  • Is this the your bag or is it the hers?
  • I want to spend the lots of time with the every person here.

Okay, quick review:

  1. Don’t use the if you’re talking about things in general.
  2. Don’t use the with most names (but remember there are many exceptions to this).
  3. Don’t use the with another determiner.

5. Review

Alright, so let’s go through the most important points from this lesson.

If you’re speaking, and you use the before a noun, you’re saying, “You know which one or ones I mean.”

There can be different reasons for this. Maybe the thing you’re talking about is obvious. Maybe you’re talking about a shared experience with the other person, or something you’ve talked about before. Or, maybe you’re talking about something unique.

From this lesson, you’ve got six rules: three rules about when to use the, and three rules about when not to use the.

You also saw a simple test to check if a noun needs an article or not: is the noun singular? Is it countable? If yes and yes, it needs a determiner, possibly the.

If you find it difficult to use the correctly, take these six rules and this test, and try using them.

We hope these tips are simple enough that you can remember them and start using them right now.

If you do, you will use the more accurately, and you will make fewer mistakes. Remember, these tips have helped many of our students, and they can help you, too!

Thanks for watching!

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Oli RedmanHow To Use THE – Video