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Many of us get troubled when we have to use English as a means of communication ¾ in conversation and in writing. Quite often the confusion (more in writing than in speech) is how and when to use or not use the article ‘the’.

A travel website, for example, has displayed a highlighted note for its readers: Log your road travel experiences here. Be sure to include the interesting pictures as well. This is an example of how articles are wrongly used, even on websites that are otherwise well designed and look sleek.

Similarly, “Which is right answer?” “She is the French lady” “The guard failed to catch thief” ¾ these are a few examples of wrong placement/omission of the article ‘the’ which are often used – intentionally or unintentionally.

Arijit, a friend of mine who works as a technical editor in a multinational IT company, feels the problem occurs either because “people don’t know the difference between articles a, an, and the” or because “they are non-native speakers of English”.

Recounting his experience, he says: “People usually use the article ‘the’ with proper nouns, such as names of applications. For example, ‘use the Enterprise Manager’ (it should be ‘use Enterprise Manager’). Or they use it without introducing the thing they refer to. ‘The following scan methods can be used for IOTs that contain the large objects.’ In this sentence, we don’t need ‘the’ as it is a generic reference to large objects and not specific to any large objects that we already mentioned. Disgustingly, ‘He is playing the tennis’ is normal Indian usage.”

His views are shared by Deb, a friend who is a sub-editor for a national magazine. She says, “Many times I come across sentences such as ‘Apart from academic refinement initiatives, school has been organizing several cultural and sports activities.’ The omissions take place even when it is necessary to retain the article. And I think that’s because people haven’t been taught properly at the primary level and therefore they don’t know the correct use of articles.”

Do you also find the use of ‘the’ bewildering? Here are some tips to learn when to use the article.

RULES MADE SIMPLE

The easiest way to use ‘the’ is to remember to use it

  • When you know that the listener/reader knows or can guess what particular person/thing you are talking about. For example, The burger you ate was mine or Did you watch the match?
  • When you have already introduced the person/thing you are talking about. For example, Maya teaches two batches. One in the morning and the other in the evening.
  • When you are referring to specific rivers, oceans and seas and when the word river is omitted. For example: River Nile, the Brahmaputra, River Tapti, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific.
  • Before particular nouns which we know are only one of a kind. For example: the rain, the sun, the Earth, the Taj Mahal, the world, etc.
  • Before class nouns which show one thing as a representative of the class to which it belongs. For example, the fields, the sparrow, the last days of the spring.
  • When you are mentioning a particular person or thing which is the best or most famous. For example, Karim’s is the place to go for fresh kababs. I saw the Taj Mahal when I went to Agra this summer.
  • In place of possessive personal pronouns such as his, her, etc. For example, The eyes twinkled as the baby smiled.
  • When you want to emphasize a word almost equal to its descriptive adjective. For example, Here is the tower that shall remind coming generations of our sacrifice.

DO NOT USE ‘THE’

  • When you talk about things in general. For example, “The trees fell in the storm” mean only those trees fell to which you are referring to, whereas “trees fell in the storm” will mean many trees fell in the storm.
  • When you refer to a sport. For example, My daughter knows swimming not the swimming; Skating is expensive not the skating; cricket is his favourite sport not the cricket.
  • When you use uncountable nouns. For example, I will have coffee not the coffee; She needs information on global warming not the information.
  • Before names of countries and companies except where they indicate multiple areas or union, such as state(s), kingdom, republic, or union. For example, Infosys, Wipro, the India Today Group, Italy, Mexico, India, the UK, the US, and the Netherlands.

Hope these points help. If you have more examples to state or suggestions to use ‘the’ correctly, please share them by writing comments.

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Lousy Writer

OWL

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