Common confusion: when NOT to use definite articles

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The is a definite article and also the most frequently used word in English. We use definite articles in front of nouns when referring to specific things or things already mentioned. For example:

The brightest star in the sky is Sirius. (specific star)
The new pope is from Argentina. (specific pope)
The Pacific Ocean is great for surfing. (specific ocean)

The title of this post is when not to use a definite article, so when is that? I highlight this question because many English learners use the too much, when it's not needed, especially when they're referring to a general, non-specific group.

We don't use definite articles with general categories.

- Mary is terrified by snakes. (not the snakes)
- Judy is allergic to flowers (flowers in general, not specific flowers).
- Mosquitoes are annoying. (not the mosquitoes)

Even though the is the most frequently used word in the English language, it's also beneficial knowing when not to use it. Be aware of this difference and you'll sound like a natural, native speaker.