grammarNOW! Tip of the Week: a/the

Articles are sometimes the most difficult thing about English, especially for non-native speakers. Here are some basic guidelines:

Use the when you want to be specific about a noun; use a when you want a more general reference.

Compare: the president (the one we both know I’m referring to) or a president (any president, no one in particular).

You would rarely use a before a proper noun because the name itself is a specific identifier. For example, you would not say, “May I introduce you to a Tom Selleck?”

You would, however, use the when you want to emphasize that the proper noun is the one everyone thinks of when they hear the name. For example, I once received an email from someone named Gary Larson. I had to ask, “Are you the Gary Larson?” I was referring to the comic artist, and he was not that talented person, but he does have his own talent and a very useful writing site at http://home.comcast.net/~garbl/.

There is the rare time when you might want to use a in a way such as this: He was in touch with a Dr. Kevorkian, but I don’t know why. Obviously, the speaker does not know the doctor’s reputation but expects that the name would have prominence in some circles.

grammarNOW! says:

There are many excellent online sources for this very subject; here’s one I like: http://www.ccp.rpi.edu/resources/handouts/nnes-esl-students/article-usage/.

Advertisements
  1. Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: