Q & A of the Week 你问我答
The 定冠词 The

I have had some knowledge about the article 'the' but I still find it difficult to use it. Can you help me?

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Victoria from Qingdao sent in this week's question about the use of the.

Words like the, a or an are called articles. She says she has some knowledge of them but still finds them difficult to use.

The word 'the'
The, a or an?

Alex Gooch is a teacher of English as a foreign language and he said almost all students experience problems with articles, so don't worry if you find them difficult too.

The best way to demonstrate how to use the is by comparing it with the use of a or an.

A or an is used for countable nouns (nouns with plurals like hat/hats, bottle/bottles - uncountable nouns are things that can't be counted like air, rice etc), when you're introducing them for the first time in a conversation.

- I watched a film yesterday.

We use a film here because this is the first time we have heard about the film - the listener doesn't know which film is being talked about.

However we use the when we're discussing something that we expect the listener already knows about.

- I watched a film yesterday, but it wasn't as good as the film we watched last week.

We say the film we watched last week because both the speaker and the person he is talking know about the film - because they watched it last week.

A book
The book or a book?

- The book you gave me last weekend was so exciting.

- I need to find a book about Beijing.

If we look at the examples above, we can see why one uses the book and one uses a book.

When we say the book you gave me last weekend we know which specific book it is so we use the. However if we need to find a book about Beijing it could be any book. We don't know which book.

The best advice Alex could give about using articles in English is to practise. The more you hear and speak English, the more you will get a feeling for which article to use. Good luck!

Great question Victoria - we hope the answer helped! Do you have a question about the English language? Send us an email: questions.chinaelt@bbc.co.uk and you might see your question answered here on our website.

Glossary 词汇

articles 冠词

to demonstrate 解释,示范

countable nouns 可数名词

uncountable nouns 不可数名词

specific 明确的

get a feeling for 获得语感

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