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How to use 'the' correctly

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How to use 'the' correctly

Unread postby Weibing » Fri Jan 11, 2008 2:52 pm

Sounds easy?! If not, why? Some learners of English may find it tricky, especially for learners in Asia. Here is my two cents worth!

1. Life in this village is improving.
2. The life in this village is improving.

3. Please turn to page 12.
4. Please turn to the page 12.

5. Rights of the America people.
6. Rights of America people.

7. The 8th Asia sports meeting.
8. 8th Asia sports meeting.
(written on a billboard)

I think #4 is incorrect, but I'm not so sure it's against which rule(s) of English grammar?

In addition, when we need to name an organization, should we put a 'the' in an organization's name such as a hospital (the hospital of...)? And how to use 'the' in the titles or subtitles of an article properly?

We usually use 'the' subconsciously, without paying more attention to it - at least, I didn't until recently. Did we put every 'the' correctly or properly in our writing(s)?

Best wishes,

Weibing
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Re: How to use 'the' correctly

Unread postby Josef » Tue Jan 15, 2008 12:08 pm

Weibing,

The TEFL Notice Board is for teachers and discussion between teachers. (TEFL means Teaching English as a Foreign Language.)

You will get more and a better response if you post in the ESL Forums at:

Grammar Help Desk
http://www.englishclub.com/esl-forums/v ... .php?f=199

Help Each Other With English
http://www.englishclub.com/esl-forums/v ... .php?f=139

:)
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Re: How to use 'the' correctly

Unread postby Weibing » Tue Jan 15, 2008 3:16 pm

Dear EC,

Thanks for your timely response and notice. I really know this forum is for teachers, but I really want to know if that means anyone who isn't a teacher or at least doesn't register as a teacher isn't allowed to join in and to post here?!

To some extent, I may not really be an English teacher. To be a good teacher or be good at teaching, you really need to master the teaching method (the way you teach), but at the same time you need to be able to answer questions your students may ask. So, it's quite natural for you the English teacher to be here to answer some questions pertaining to English knowledge - it's just part of the discussion here between teachers, isn't it?!

BTW, why not directly answer my questions instead of giving the notice?!

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Re: How to use 'the' correctly

Unread postby Susan » Tue Jan 15, 2008 5:20 pm

Of course, teachers are allowed to ask questions about grammar.

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Re: How to use 'the' correctly

Unread postby Kevin Vosper » Wed Jan 16, 2008 3:34 pm

Dear Weibing

To go back to your original question I think you've found the most difficult word for English learners in the entire English language. When I test or mark students work, written or oral, mistakes in the use of "the" usually account for sixty to seventy percent of all mistakes. This can increase to nearer eighty percent for Chinese speakers. For Chinese speakers I think the reason is obvious since the Chinese language doesn't use articles but uses other devices to clarify a certain situation. Strangly enough Italian speakers also have problems using the definite article despite the fact that Italian does use articles and in fact, as far as I know, there is an almost direct translation between the English "the" and the Italian "il/la/lo/l'" articles (please correct me if I'm wrong in either of the above). So I think use of the definite article in English is a problem for all learners, although increased for Chinese and other Asian language speakers.

I usually teach my students that "the" is very close to the meaning of "that." In fact at one time in the development of English the relationship was so close they were practically the same word. Over the centuries they have moved slightly apart but still maintain a close relationship to each other. Some examples may make this clearer:

If I said, "open a window." You have a choice of which window to open. You could open window A, window B or window C. All these actions would satisfy the original instruction (as long as you only open ONE window-remember a/an means ONE). If I said, "open the window." you do not have a choice I mean THAT window. Perhaps there is only one window in the room. For this reason "the" is more commonly used with doors when there is a much greater chance of there being only one. "Open a door" would seem strange when used in a room with only one door although quite normal when refering to an advent calander with many doors.

Another problem is that "the" often suggests a common understanding between two people. This is often implied rather than made explicit. If I said "I'll meet you at the bus stop" it assumes we both know which bus stop I mean. Perhaps it's the nearest one or the one we usually meet at. If I said, "meet me at a bus stop" you are free to choose whichever bus stop you like. Such a sentence would be silly since we could (or in large cities almost certainly would) fail to meet having chosen different bus stops.

Yet another problem is that using the definite article can change the meaning of words. A Polish student of mine used to say that his wife was "in hospital" and would look puzzled when I replied that I hoped she would get better soon. What he meant was that she was "in the hospital" ie the local hospital where she worked. The use of "the" changed a situation or institution into a building. Similar changes occure in both "school" and "prison." "You will go to prison for five years" means I'm going to be locked up in a social institution but I may go to two or three buildings many miles apart. "I'm going to the prison" means the building, often the nearest perhaps to visit someone. "school" is very similar.

Another problem area is when to use it with countries. Here there is a general rule to follow although it is not foolproof. My name is Kevin. I am not "the Kevin" and the reason is that "Kevin" is a proper noun, ie a real name, unlike most nouns which are common nouns. The rule is taking the first word is it a proper noun or a common noun? For common nouns use "the" for proper nouns use no article. For example:

America (proper noun, no article)
United States of America (united-common noun, add "the")

Britain (proper noun, no article)
U.K. (U-short for United, common noun, add "the")

China (proper noun, no article)
People's Republic of China (people's-common noun, add "the")

Poland (proper noun, no article)
Republic of Poland (republic-common noun, add "the")

However, what about The Netherlands? Well in fact it does follow the rule since "nether" is a common noun in English, although one which died out in normal use several hundred years ago. It means low so The Netherlands really means The Lowlands. There may be exceptions to this rule, e.g.The European Community, but it's generally true.

Finally, remember that in the same way that "a" is pronounced "an" before a vowel sound "the" also has a different pronunciation before a vowel sound. My computer doesn't do pronunciation symbols but any good dictionary will show them.

If all of the above looks frightening remember that language is about communication and it's perfectly OK to make mistakes with language, and especially mistakes with articles which rarely lead to serious communication problems. So if you're a Chinese speaker who has never used an article in their life but the rest of your English is OK don't worry you'll still be understood.

One final point about this forum being for "teachers issues." I personally think that a wide range of different questions on any forum is important and I don't think it matters whether you're a teacher, student, profesional wanting to work in an English speaking country or someone simply interested in the English language everybody should be welcome. Just don't try and sell me Viagra.

Best wishes

Kevin
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Re: How to use 'the' correctly

Unread postby Josef » Sat Jan 19, 2008 5:22 pm

Weibing wrote:BTW, why not directly answer my questions instead of giving the notice?!

Because according to your profile you are a doctor :mrgreen: (which without further qualification one would normally take to be a doctor of medicine). There is no reference to teaching under "Occupation". If you are a teacher you may want to update your profile. Certainly questions from teachers about grammar etc are welcomed in these forums: that's partly what they're for.

Weibing wrote:I really know this forum is for teachers, but I really want to know if that means anyone who isn't a teacher or at least doesn't register as a teacher isn't allowed to join in and to post here?!

In a nutshell, it's for teachers. But that could include anyone who is remotely involved with teaching, so the definition is not very strict. However, it does not include anyone who is purely an ESL learner since they have all the resources of the ESL Forums at their beck and call.
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Re: How to use 'the' correctly

Unread postby Weibing » Sun Jan 20, 2008 12:42 am

First to my friend Kevin, thank you Kevin! Your positive feedback is always encouraging - I, probably not just I, really appreciate it!

EC wrote:Because according to your profile you are a doctor (which without further qualification one would normally take to be a doctor of medicine). There is no reference to teaching under "Occupation". If you are a teacher you may want to update your profile. Certainly questions from teachers about grammar etc are welcomed in these forums: that's partly what they're for.


Hi EC, yes, I'm a doctor, but, does that necessarily mean that I'm not involved with English teaching?! :? Maybe I just teach medicine, to some extent, I'm also a teacher. And what if I happen to teach medicine in English? Then do I qualify for posting here some enquiries concerning English language/teaching?

On the other hand, even though I'm just a student who just comes here to ask you the English teacher some questions pertaining to English language, Could you say there is no referrence to English teaching? Then what is a teacher for? I don't think it'll work if we discuss teaching and at the same time avoiding the students we're teaching! :?: And I'm quite sure, at the moment we're talking, many students are just here and watching us!

But maybe you just said all that for me to get more answers. Maybe I really should repost my quesitons to other forums you recommended. To tell the truth, I'm not really satisfied with all the answers you've given to my original questions. Do you really think I can get a really better answer to my question in other forums (answers probably not from English teachers)?!

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Re: How to use 'the' correctly

Unread postby Susan » Sun Jan 20, 2008 2:50 pm

Dear Weibing,

I understand fully that you wish to have your question answered by teachers; that is only natural.

However, I'll repeat what EC said in that these forums are for teachers to discuss teaching and teaching-related matters. Teachers also need a place where they can talk with each other. This is why schools have staff rooms - a place for teachers to get together.

In my previous reply, I said that teachers can ask questions about grammar and this is true. When I wrote that, I thought you were a teacher yourself. If this is not the case, then there are other forums that are more suited to your situation.

All the best

Susan
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Re: How to use 'the' correctly

Unread postby Josef » Mon Jan 21, 2008 3:33 am

Weibing wrote:Do you really think I can get a really better answer to my question in other forums (answers probably not from English teachers)?! Weibing

Questions in the ESL Help Desk are answered only by a teacher.

Teachers also participate in Help Each Other with English, though in this case an answer from a teacher is not guaranteed.
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Re: How to use 'the' correctly

Unread postby Josef » Mon Jan 21, 2008 4:15 am

Kevin Vosper wrote:Just don't try and sell me Viagra.

Don't want much, do you? :roll:
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