Hold on, I am not asking the difference between when to use "the", "a", or "an".

My question is, when to use the. For example:

Do not cross in front of bus;


Do not cross in front of the bus;


Check if we can reach target from source;


Check if we can reach the target from the source;

Are there some definitive rules about when (and when not) to use the articles (especially the the)?

Me? Well, I have the habit of using (or rather overusing) the article the. Hence the question.

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    There are about 10 million different and detailed resources on the definite article and its usage in English, from primer to CGEL. Please show us which you've read and what specific questions they failed to answer. – Dan Bron Mar 8 '18 at 22:30
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    Without the "the," your sentences are beginning to sound like military speak or some street/highway signs, all of which tend to pare things down to the bare minimum. For example, "Trespassers on army property shot" (Translation: "Any trespassers on this army property will be shot.") Sometimes, icons and simple illustrations complement the written content or even eliminate it altogether, as in the sign for "Deer Crossing," for example, which pictures a stylized deer. Unless you are trying for that style, include the word "the." I can't imagine how you can use too many of them. Don – rhetorician Mar 8 '18 at 22:38
  • 'by the bus' or 'by bus' et al. Look at the 'Related' questions on that question. – Mitch Mar 9 '18 at 0:21
  • The more I delve into this matter, the more I get the feeling that the definite article implies that the listener knows what is meant by the noun following right after it (regardless of whether it has already been mentioned in the conversation or not) and that the listener is invited to give some of his attention to what is referred to by that noun, while the indefinite article signals that what follows it is merely one of the things that belong to that class and that just hearing it is well enough for understanding of the thought and no further attention is needed. – brilliant Sep 13 '18 at 1:19

"The" can only be used if the object has already been described beforehand. If the object in the sentence has been already described beforehand and is a proper noun, you will not have to use "the". On the other hand, if the object in the sentence has been described beforehand but it is not a proper noun, you will have to use "the".


  • I know him, he was my Staff Sergeant back in 'Nam, his name is [not using "the"] John McCreed.
  • I know John McCreed; he was the Staff Sergeant back in 'Nam.
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