1. The Mole had been working very hard all the morning. (The Wind in the Willows)
  2. The package was lying by the front door (Button, Button)

These two examples are from two different books and they are the opening sentences beginning with definite article the. Since the words mole and package are being mentioned first time, they should take indefinite article a rather than the. As High School English Grammar by Wren & Martin says that when a singular countable noun is mentioned for the first time, it always takes indefinite article a or an. But in the above mentioned two examples both sentences are taking definite article the. How can it be justified here?

1 Answer 1


Wren and Martin is "Lying to children". It is a very very old-fashioned grammar book. It was okay for its purpose: teaching the children of the British Raj, and making sure that they don't start speaking Urdu. It is more or less useless as a textbook of English Grammar for learners today.

We use "The" to indicate definiteness. In these cases the author is using an in media res trick. The author is placing us immediately in the middle of the action. It lets us know that "This mole is special". This is also why "Mole" has capital letter. For the rest of the book, "Mole" will be treated like a name.

Similarly in the second example, we are put inside another character's head in the middle of their life. We know from the definite article that "this package" will be special in the story somehow, but we have to read on to find out why. So using "the" is a way of engaging the reader.

Often when a word is mentioned for the first time it is not definite and so has the "a". This is a consequence of the meaning of the word "the" and not a grammar rule.

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