The Misused “the”

Some of the most common grammar errors I come across involve the word “the”.  When marking or editing English papers written by those whose vernacular is either Urdu or Punjabi, the word “the” is either overused or underused.

Not all languages make use of articles as much as they are used in English.  If you are conversing is a language that does not use articles, and then you write in English where articles are frequently used, it can cause grammar errors.

A few common rules should help you produce a paper where the word ‘the’ is used correctly.

Use the:

  • When you know (are clear about) which thing or person we mean.  The thing is specified.
  • Compare:
    • I would like a piece of cake.  = I would like a piece of cake but it doesn’t matter which one.
    • I would like the piece of cake on the table. = I want that particular piece of cake.
  • With people or things when there is only one:  the moon, the sun, etc.
  • With superlatives:  John is the tallest in the class.
  • With musical instruments:  He plays the guitar.
  • Before the name of a particular river, ocean, hotel, ship, newspaper, etc:  the Amazon River, the Artic Ocean
  • Before some countries:  the Philippines, the UK

Do not use the:

  • Before the names of most countries:  Pakistan
  • Before the names of lakes, islands and capes:  on Lake Victoria, beside Cape Horn
  • But we put the when we put island first:  the island of Penang
  • With play + games:  He plays tennis.
  • With meals:  He is eating breakfast, dinner, supper, lunch.
  • With general ideas:  I like music.
  • With languages and school subjects:  She studies English.  My brother is studying physics.

To learn more about the use of articles and other grammar and effective writing points contact Busisense English for available courses and workshops.  Good grammar is a necessary component to a well written article or paper.

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