Definite article

From Teflpedia

A definite article is a grammatical article expressing definiteness. English has only one definite article "the". This is often referred to as "the definite article" and is also the commonest word in English.

Meaning[edit | edit source]

We generally use "the" when we know which referent is being referred to.

However, we sometimes say "the" even if we don't know, e.g. "I'm going to the gym" / "the library"/ "the supermarket", etc. And we sometimes drop "the" even when we know which one we're talking about; especially with 'school' and 'church'. e.g. "I'm going to school", not %"I'm going to the school".

Form[edit | edit source]

Other related European languages (notably German) have various definite articles that are inflected for case and/or gender. Although historical English had these, it has since lost them.

A definite article forms part of definite noun phrase. However, within a definite noun phrase the definite article is can be superseded by a dependent possessive determiner, (e.g. "the house" --> "my house").

Pronunciation[edit | edit source]

The strong form of "the" is (/ði:/) and the weak form is (/ðə/).

The strong form is typically used before vowel sounds regardless of spelling; e.g. the agency /ði: eidʒənsi/; the hour /ði: aʊə/; the oven /ði: ʌvən/. It is also used when speakers want to stress the following word, we often use /ði:/, even if that following word begins with a consonant: It's the best place in town! (/ði: best/).

Before consonant sounds "the" is usually reduced to /ðə/; the university, the one thing.

In rapid speech, ð may be reduced to a schwa sound, particularly if merged into a previous /s/ or /z/ sound, so e.g. "What's the matter" sounds like /ˈwɒtsəˈmætə/. Also e.g. "join the army" can end up as /ˈʤɔɪniˈɑ:mi:/.

English language learners may employ th- substitution if they struggle with the voiced dental fricative sound.