The use of The before singular countable nouns
The word the is often referred to as the definite article. The Old English word from which the is derived was used as a demonstrative pronoun, with a meaning similar to that of the modern English words this and that. In modern English, the word the is usually used with a noun when the speaker or writer feels that there will be no doubt about which particular thing is meant.
a. Referring to something mentioned before
The is used with nouns referring to things previously mentioned.
e.g. Here is the book I mentioned to you last week.
As I was walking to work I passed a garden. The garden was full of roses.
In the first example, the is used with book, because the book has been mentioned previously. In the second example, the first time the garden is referred to, the indefinite article a is used, because the garden has not been mentioned previously. The second time the garden is referred to, the definite article the is used, because the garden has already been mentioned.
b. Referring to something unique
The is used when referring to things which are unique, since in such cases there can be no doubt about which particular thing is meant.
e.g. I have found the answer.
This is the shortest route into town.
In the first example, the would be used if there is only one possible answer. In the second example, the is used because only one route can be the shortest one.
Expressions such as middle of and top of are generally preceded by the, since it is considered that there can, for example, be only one middle or one top of something.
e.g. There is a car stopped in the middle of the road.
She is at the top of her class.
They like to be the center of attention.
The police are determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
c. Referring to something when it is considered obvious what is meant
The is also used when, because the thing being referred to is the most important one of its kind to the speaker or writer, it is assumed that it will be understood which particular thing is meant.
e.g. The house needs to be painted.
Thesun rose at six o'clock this morning.
I'm going to the park.
Don't slam the door.
These sentences give examples of the use of the to refer to things which are not in fact unique, but which are uniquely important to the speaker or writer. The expression the house is often used when referring to one's own house. The expression the sun almost always refers to the sun which is closest to the earth. The expression the park might be used to refer to the only park in the vicinity, or to a park which one visits often. In the sentence Don't slam the door, the expression the door might refer to the door of the room or building which one is presently occupying.
d. Referring to something as a class
When preceded by the, a singular countable noun can be used to represent something as a class.
e.g. The telephone is a modern convenience.
The horse is a domesticated animal.
The eagle is a bird of prey.
In the first example, the telephone refers to telephones considered as a class. Likewise, in the other examples, the horse refers to horses considered as a class, and the eagle refers to eagles considered as a class.
It should be noted that the is not used when the word man represents the human race considered as a class.
e.g. Man has invented many things.
The dolphin may be as intelligent as man.
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