I was told that ‘the’ precedes ‘definite article’ as there is only one definite article in English language. For example, in a sentence it would be

the use of the definite article

But what if I am tasked to pick one definite article from a text, for example

please, select a definite article from the text – (definite article is not a concept?)

Also I saw a sentence by a native speaker who used ‘a’, please see below:

In the form of a definite article

Is ‘the’ used to define the concept of the definite article or I am getting it completely wrong?

  • 2
    There are many instances of the definite article. Any of these could be referred to as a definite article. In English a/the definite article (I could be referring to the abstraction or an instance, so either will do) has only one form, but in many other languages it may take different forms, so you could reasonably refer to a definite example in this sense as well. – Colin Fine May 29 at 14:19
  • a/the here follows the same rules/pattern as in the rest of the language. – Lambie May 29 at 14:44
  • 'I could be referring to the abstraction or an instance, so either will do' just to clarify, it doesn't matter if I use 'a' or'the' if I am referring to an instance (or abstraction)? – Bubik May 29 at 21:50

statement: "The" "precedes the definite article".

That statement is not quite right.

  • The use of the definite article "the" can be accurate or inaccurate in utterances (or sentences). It takes practice to get the hang of it.
  • The use of a definite article in a sentence can be fine. [generality]. That does not mean English has more than one definite article.

That is the accurate way to describe this.

The Definite Article in English. [title of an essay]

  • There is only one definite article in English: the

    • The use of a definite article in some sentences would merely mean one definite article, as opposed to two definite articles. However, bear in mind that the a/the usage is not based on the fact English has only one definite article. Please keep reading.

    • Q: Did you use a definite article in that phrase, John?

    • A: Yes, I did. I did use a definite article in that phrase. But I didn't use two of them. Of course, the definite article appears many times in my text. I have highlighted its use for you to see.

Using a/the is just like anywhere else in English:

  • Q: Do you have a car, John? [a generality]
  • A: Yes, I do. I have the car parked in the driveway. [a specificity]

  • Q: Is there a definite article in your paragraph? [a generality]

  • A: Yes, there is. There is the definite article in the second sentence. [a specificity]
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  • Oh boy, sour apples, eh? – Lambie May 29 at 14:31
  • Thank you for our answer. In addition to my question I was also told to use 'the' before'Cambridge test' as there is only one Cambridge test, but what if had two Cambridge tests last month? – Bubik May 29 at 14:33
  • Yes, there is only one Cambridge test in existence but you took it twice: I took [or sat, BrE] the Cambridge test twice last month. "I did not visit the capital city when I was in [country]. – Lambie May 29 at 14:43
  • I have never visited a capital in my life. – Lambie May 29 at 14:52

You can use articles, definite and indefinite, before other parts of speech: a noun, the noun, a verb, the verb, a preposition, the preposition.
In the same way, you can also say the article, an article, and all the variants:
a definite article
the definite article
an indefinite article
the indefinite article

You have to make a distinction between naming a thing, and using it.

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