1) We use “the” before a superlative adjective when the superlative adjective is followed by a noun or defining phrase.


- He is the finest young player around at the moment.

- This painting’s the most unusual in the collection.

NOTE 1: We can leave out “the”, particularly in an informal style, when there is no noun or defining phrase after the superlative adjective.


A: Why did you decide to stay in this hotel?

B: It was cheapest. / It was the cheapest I could find.

NOTE 2: When most before an adjective means very or extremely we can use “a” (with countable singular) or “zero article” (with plurals and uncountable) rather than “the” when there is no following noun. Most is used in this way particularly in a rather formal spoken style. In everyday conversation we generally use a word such as very instead.


- He was a most peculiar-looking man. (= a very peculiar-looking man)

- It was most expensive petrol. (= extremely expensive)

2) We use “the” when we know that there is only one of a particular thing.

Example: the sun, the world, the North Pole, the jet age, the international market, the travel industry, the arms trade…etc.

NOTE 1: The same applies to the following thins when we refer to them in a general way.

Example: the weather, the climate, the human race, the atmosphere, the sea, the public, the environment, the sky, the ground, the wind, the future, the past…etc.

NOTE 2: However, if we want to describe a particular instance of these we use “a/an”.


- She could hear the wind whistling through the trees outside. and

- There’s a cold wind blowing from the north.

- What are your plans for the future? and

- She dreamt of a future where she could spend more time painting.

3) We use “the” when we expect the listener or reader to be able to identify the thing or person we are talking about, and we use “a/an” when we don’t.


- Helen’s just bought a house in Wilson Street. and

- Helen’s just bought the house in Wilson Street. (= the house for sale we have previously talked about)

- There’s a bus coming. and

- The bus is coming. (= it’s the bus we are waiting for)

4) We use “the” when it is clear from the situation which person or thing we mean.


- What do you think of the table? (= the table we are looking at)

- This tastes lovely. What’s in the sauce? (= the sauce here on my plate)

5) We use “the” in fictional writing (novels, short stories, etc.) to mention something for the first with “the” to build up suspense, expectation, etc.

Example: The woman opened the gate and looked thoughtfully at the house.

6) We often use “the” with nouns before a phrase beginning “of…” and the “of…” phrase connects this noun to a particular thing or person.


- Pictures can help students learn the meaning of new words.

- The disease could have killed off half the population of the country.

- He was woken up by the sound of gunfire.

NOTE: Some nouns are commonly used in the pattern “the…of…” to refer to a particular place, time, etc., including back, beginning, bottom, end, middle, side, top…


- In the middle of his speech he started to cough uncontrollably.

- At the end of the story we become so sad.