They say “Little strokes fell great oaks”, “A small leak will sink a great ship” or “Little chips light great fires”.
In a grammatical context, these proverbs may refer to communication errors between the sender and the receiver, leading to confusing situations – all this caused by a slight grammatical error, such as the inappropriate use of articles.
Articles as a subclass of determiners
Articles belong to the broader category of determiners, together with demonstratives (this, that, these, those), possessive determiners (my, your, his, her, our, their) and quantifiers (all, any, enough, less, a lot of, lots of, more, or both, each, few, several), which will make the topic of a separate discussion.
In English, articles are divided into definite and indefinite; the definiteness being an attribute of the common noun, along with the grammatical number and gender.
The Definite Article
The definite article is resorted to when referring either to a uniquely specified or to a previously mentioned member of a class or group.
In English, there is a single form of the definite article, namely the, for both singular and plural nouns.
The is the most frequently used world in English.
The teachers changed the children’s learning tasks into instructive games.
This utterance refers to specific teachers and children, in contrast to:
Teachers change children’s learning tasks into instructive games.
which is a general observation.
When to use the definite article
The receiver (hearer, reader) knows exactly what we are referring to.
The noun is one-of-a-kind.
the Pope, the moon
The noun is the only one in a particular environment.
Can you see the girl in a blue dress who’s climbing the stairs? (whom I am pointing at)
I live in the downtown area, close to the town hall.
We have already mentioned the noun.
A kitten fell from a great height. The kitten escaped by miracle.
The sender (speaker, writer) covers all the members of the class or group referred to by the noun.
The cat is said to have nine lives. Have you ever wondered why?
The brain is the essential organ of the human body. It has always been a fascinating research theme.
The sender (speaker, writer) refers to groups of people.
the elderly, the rich, the poor
The sum of the employed and unemployed indicates a nation’s labour force.
The sender (speaker, writer) refers to a service or a system.
I dare say this deed falls within the competence of the police.
Normally, the definite article is not used with names:
Bucharest is the capital of Romania, one of the most beautiful countries in the world, situated at the crossroads of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe.
One of the most acclaimed novels written by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky is Crime and Punishment.
However, there are a few exceptions, when we employ the definite article:
within country names which also include kingdom, states, republic;
the United Kingdom, the United States, the Republic of Malta
in the case of countries which have plural nouns as their names;
within names of naturally-created (geographical) features of the Earth, such as mountain ranges, archipelagos, oceans, seas, rivers;
the Black Sea, the Carpathians, the Danube, the English Channel, the Panama Channel
the Colosseum, the White House, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Taj Mahal
renowned works of art;
the Mona Lisa, the David (by Michelangelo Buonarroti)
the United Nations, the Council of the European Union
the Genghis Khan family, the Nehru-Gandhi family, the Jacksons, the Kennedys
Another provisional conclusion
This time we have reached faraway horizons, travelling back in mankind’s history and even looking into its future … in search of examples relevant to our current topic.
You can come up with your own examples taken from various fields of knowledge. Thus, you will combine the acquisition of English with fascinating journeys into various cultures and civilizations and you will bring their treasures into the present, thereby enriching and embellishing it.
I would be delighted if we kept the fruitful multicultural conversation we have just opened up.