The thing with ‘the’

When to use it and when not? Seems easy enough at first glance (auf den ersten Blick) – but deep down in the nitty gritty, it isn’t as straightforward (unkompliziert) as it seems. Here’s a quick overview, when and when not.

I guess it makes sense to start with when:

  1. Before a noun that has been mentioned before, that is known or assumed or that is very specific: “I bought the book you recommended”
  2. Before certain nouns, including: the sky; the environment; the world; the country (ländliches Gebiet); the ground, the sea/ocean (das Meer), the cinema
  3. Before certain times of the day, including: the morning; the afternoon. the evening BUT (at noon and at night)
  4. Before a singular noun that is used generically: e.g. “The dollar has fallen in value against the euro.”
  5. Before a collective noun that is looks like an adjective and describes a group of people: e.g. “The unemployed need our assistance.” But “Unemployed people need our assistance”.
  6. Before place names containing the “state(s), kingdom, republic, union” and before the names of rivers: The Czech Republic, the United Kingdom. The new office is near the Thames.

When not

  1. Before nouns when talking in general terms: e.g. “Crime is a real problem in this neighbourhood” or “People work hard for their living.”
  2. Before uncountable nouns: I have the information that might help.
  3. Before ‘work’ and ‘home’ in most contexts: e.g. “Dave didn’t go to work last week”. BUT “The work I do is great fun and fulfilling”.
  4. Before certain institutions when used as concepts: “I attended university / college in Birmingham”
  5. Before a noun and number combination: “I’m in room 213/on extension 145/ on page 217.
  6. Before the names of months, days, certain times of the day and meals: e.g.”After lunch, we resumed the negotiations. (verhandlungen wiederaufnehmen)” BUT “I ate a large dinner yesterday”.
  7. Oh and then there’s the thing with THE pronunciation. Here I’d like to hand over to Gill. Over to you, Gill …..

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