IF YOUR NATIVE LANGUAGE DOES NOT HAVE ARTICLES (e.g., Russian, Japanese):
1. RULE: Use the article ‘THE’ before a noun if you are indicating a specific something that the listener knows:
I am seeing THE dentist today. [The speaker knows you mean YOUR dentist]
Who moved THE chairs? [The speaker knows you mean the chairs that were right there.]
Please hand me THE pepper. [ The speaker knows you mean the pepper on the table.]
2. RULE: Use the indefinite article “A/AN” if the speaker doesn’t know which one you mean.
I need to drink a cup of coffee, or I will fall asleep. [No specific cup is indicated.]
I need an envelope. [No specific envelope]
I need the envelope over there. [Specific envelope that the listener can see.]
There’s a bug in the bathroom. [The listener doesn’t know which bug.]
Yikes! See the bug crawling up the wall! [ The listener knows which one the speaker means.]
3. RULE: Don’t use an article with a plural noun or an uncountable (mass) noun:
I need envelopes.
I am afraid of spiders.
I love milk.
4. RULE: Don’t use an article to talk about things in general, usually. (There are some exceptions, like everything else in English!)
Giraffes are very tall.
Gasoline is expensive now.
5. RULE: Don’t let single, countable nouns stand alone. Use ‘my dog, this dog, that dog, the dog, any dog, either dog, every dog.’ But do not just say ‘dog’
My dog is very friendly. (Not ‘Dog is very friendly.’)
Every dog should be walked daily. (Not ‘Dog should be walked daily.’)
IF YOUR NATIVE LANGUAGE DOES HAVE ARTICLES (e.g., French, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek, etc..)
1. RULE: If you are talking about things in general, we don’t usually use ‘the’ with uncountable or plural nouns.
Death is inevitable. (Not ‘The death is inevitable.”)
Life is difficult. (Not “The life is difficult.”)
My children love elephants. (Not “My children love the elephants.” Unless, of course, you are referring to specific elephants you saw in the zoo yesterday. Then, it would be acceptable to say, “My children loved the elephants.”)
2. RULE: If you are speaking about jobs/professions, use a/an.
My brother is a doctor. (Not ‘My brother is doctor.’)
I want to be a mother (Not “I want to be mother.”)
3. RULE: Use ‘the’ when what you are referring to is known to the listener (for singular, plural, or uncountable nouns).
I’m going to the store. (The listener knows which one).
I’m going to a store. (The listener doesn’t know which one you mean.)
Did she wash the clothes? (The listener knows which clothes.)
Did she wash clothes? (The listener doesn’t know which clothes.)
Where is the coffee? (The listener knows you are referring to the pot you made, etc…)
I don’t drink coffee. (Any coffee no matter where it is.)
4. RULE: If there is only ONE of something in THE whole world, use ‘the’.
The moon was so beautiful last night.
The sun has been covered by clouds for days now!
5. RULE: Use ‘the’ for superlatives (because there is only one). OR for first, next, last, same, and only.
Your boyfriend is the best.
She was the first woman to win that race!
I have the same dress.
6. RULE: ‘The’ can mean the one that is very well-known.
She is going out with Tiger Williams, the golfer.
The play was written by John Doe, the novelist.
7. RULE: Do not use ‘the’ with possessives and demonstratives.
He is my uncle. (Not “He is the my uncle.”)
I like this beer. (Not “I like this the beer.”)
8. RULE: Don’t use the with most singular proper nouns. There are a few exceptions, though.
John lives in Germany. (Not “John lives in the Germany.”)