Couuld you tell me if it is necessary to use the definite article before the adjective proper and a nount? For example:

There are really good Englih dictionaries, but they sometime fail to give (the) proper explanation of when to use one word and not the other.

You had better put on (the) proper clothes for the occasion.

In these two examples I am not talking about some specific explanations or clothes. In my experience, it seems, I've always seen the used with proper, so I wonder if it's correct and natural to omit it in my examples.

1 Answer 1


In your first example explanation is countable, so it requires an article; but either article is possible. If you use the it implicitly says that there is only one possible explanation; if you use a it does not make this implication - it does not imply anything about how many explanations there are.

In the second one, clothes is plural, so it cannot take a; but it can either take the (definite) or nothing (indefinite). The distinction is the same as in the first case: the proper clothes for the occasion implies that there is only one proper way of dressing (not in the sense of "that particular jacket, shirt, trousers", but in the sense of "that kind of assemblage"), whereas proper clothes for the occasion allows the possibility that there is more than one way of dressing that is appropriate.

  • Thank you for the great answer! I'm sorry, but I made a mistake. I meant "explanations", not "explanation". For example: ...give (the) proper explanations of when..." Nov 6, 2020 at 8:32

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