The definite article is used both with singular and plural nouns. It has the specifying meaning and the generic meaning.
In the specifying meaning the definite article denotes that the following noun refers to a particular object (thing, person) or particular objects as distinct from all others of the same class.
Nothing was natural in the room except the plants.
The definite article is used in the generic meaning when reference is made to a class of objects as a whole.
The tiger is dangerous.
The cat is a domestic animal.
Class nouns are used with the definite article:
1. When the speaker mentions a noun for the second time:
For lunch I had a sandwich and an apple.The sandwich wasn’t very nice.
If it is clear what item the speaker is referring back to, he normally uses a pronoun.
I have bought a book.It cost $2.50.
He can also use another, more general noun.
There was an enormous cat crouching on the counter… The animal looked up at Mrs. Bixby.
Angelica took the shell in both her hands and we peered at the thing.
Sometimes, however, the noun with definite article should be repeated:
· when the first mention occurred a long time before and a pronoun or noun would not make a connection with it:
But then I came on a man playing a harp. It was a black harp… and the man was dressed as a gorilla!
· when the speaker is referring to one of two different people or things that have just been mentioned together:
Suddenly Marsha heard what sounded like a fight between a man and a woman. She tensed, prepared to call help, till she realized that the woman seemed to be getting the better of it.
· when the speaker wants to add something to the noun:
The full development of an idea may well take years of hard work but the idea itself may arrive in a flash of insight.
· as a way of avoiding repeating a pronoun too often:
Lyn lived with her husband in a house that they had bought for a song in nearby Seyer Street. The house was cheap partly because it was falling down.
2. When the speaker and the hearer know what particular object is meant. No special indication is necessary.
What do you think of the table? (= the table we are looking at)
How did you like the play?
I have got the magazine.
Note It should be borne in mind that, there is a difference between knowing what object is spoken about and knowing the object itself.
I. - I do not care to speak to the girl. I have never seen her.
- Won't you speak to her?
- But I do not know the girl either.
II. - Who told you about it?
- A girl.
- What girl?
- My sister.
In the first dialogue the speaker and the hearer do not know the person at all, but they know whom they mean, so the definite article is used. In the second the speaker knows the person, but he presents her to the hearer merely as one of a class, so the indefinite article is used.
3. When the speaker uses an attribute pointing out a particular object.
This is the house that Jack built.
4. When the situation itself makes the object definite and when the speaker wants to talk about something that is associated with an earlier item (even though he hasn’t mentioned it before) just to show that there is a relationship or association between the items.
The wedding looked dismal. The bride was too old and the bridegroom was too young.
I went to the window again to try to smash the glass. (the glass in the window)
He needed a whisky, but the bottle was empty. ( bottle containing the whisky)
5. When the noun denotes the object or group of objects, which is unique or considered to be unique.
Here are some words, which belong to this group.
the north pole
the solar system
the south pole
The sun was getting warmer.
The indefinite article can be used when we mean a certain aspect in which the sun, moon and sky appear to us, a certain state of the sun, the moon, the sky. In this case an attribute is used.
A pearl-white moon smiles through the green trees.
6. With nouns used in a generic sense. A noun used in a generic sense denotes a genus taken as a whole, a thing taken as a type, a genre. A noun becomes a composite image (çá³ðíèé îáðàç) of the class and is used to talk about the general features and characteristics of a class of things.
The tiger has always had the reputation of being a man-eater.
The telephone was invented in the 19th century.
The tragedy and the comedy first appeared in Greece.
Note Groups of nouns which are used generically: names of animals, plants, professions and occupations, collective nouns denoting social groups, scientific terms, etc.
The verb is a part of speech.
When the noun man is used in a generic sense no article is used.
Silas felt that his trust in man had been cruelly destroyed.
When the noun woman is used in a generic sense it is used with the definite article or occasionally without an article.
He had always been interested in that mysterious being — the woman.
Woman is man's helpmate.
The noun people is used with the definite article when the idea of collectivity is emphasized (meaning “all the persons forming a state”). When this noun means “persons, human beings in general” it has no article.
The Ukrainian people are fighting against nuclear danger.
People often believe in fairy tails.
The public is always used with the definite article but public opinion – set-phrase.
A noun used in a generic sense should not be confused with a noun used in a general sense.
1. The lion is a wild animal.
2. Conan Doyle is a master of the detective story.
The emphasizes the class itself, without regard for concrete representatives of the class.
1. A lion is a wild animal.
2. A detective story helps to while away the time.
A emphasizes an individual representative of a class. It has the sense of any or every.
1. Lions are wild animals.
2. Detective stories are very popular with people.
The plural form without an article emphasizes all the representatives of this class
7. When nouns are modified by adjectives in the superlative degree and by ordinal numerals.
Miss Tox had the softest voice that ever was heard.
8. With nouns in word-groups the first component of which is some, many, none, most, all, both, half, one-third (the fractions) and the second a noun with the preposition of. Often, of the makes the situation specific.
Most of the students looked both angry and uncomfortable.
Note1 With all, both, half the preposition of may be omitted before article:
Both the girls were rosy-cheeked and plump like their mothers.
All the children in the room looked at Santa Claus.
“Half the people who want to learn to fly never come back for lesson number two,” Charlie said.
In general statements without modifiers after the nouns and in cases, when there is no desire to be specific, of the may be omitted.
All children like sweets.
Both men wore conservative business suits.
9. When nouns are modified by adjectives which are used to identify unique things.
They even use the same lawyers.
The next attack took place four hours later.
I began the last section of the book.
Here is a list of adjectives, which are used in this way:
This is not a rule, only a strong tendency; the indefinite article sometimes occurs with them (except with ’next’, “following”, and “same”
He paid a last visit to America.
The indefinite article can be used before ‘only’ when it is used in the expressions ‘only child’, ‘only son’, and ‘only daughter’