The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.
-Chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: The Dark Lord

According to this web site, English native speakers use the definite article in front of a noun when they believe the hearer/reader knows exactly what they are referring to. But the sentence above is the very first sentence in Harry Potter and the Deathly hallows. We don't know anything about the two men and the narrow, moonlit lane.

I looked up the use of the definite article on books and the Internet. But I couldn't find out why the definite article is used in front of that nouns.

Could you explain why the definite article is used?

  • 1
    Whoever saw them knew what lane it was.
    – user3169
    Jan 1, 2015 at 6:14
  • Did you want a grammatical explanation, or a context explanation (like the one MARamezani has given)? I am not sure which way to answer the question, so I thought I would ask your preference. I can probably say more about the grammar and the rationale behind the use of 'the' than I can say about the pragmatic or contextual use...
    – user6951
    Jan 2, 2015 at 6:42

1 Answer 1


Could you explain why the definite article is used?

This is a very interesting way to tell a story. Authors and film-makers sometimes put the viewer in "the middle of" the story or the plot. This way we'll get encouraged to figure out the story ourselves, before the author reveals it; and this is what that makes a story a great riveting one.

Now, put yourself in the place of J.K.Rowling when she was writing the book.

{Two men appeared out of nowhere....} Vs. {The two men appeared out of nowhere....}

The former sentence refers to an action that, maybe unexpectedly, happened and we had no background of what was coming. But the latter one, means that we know 'the two men' and a series of actions, which they were involved in before, have happened.

And as for the second "the" questioned, imagine yourself as the author again. The two men attempted to do something. Wouldn't they exactly know what they were about to do? Of course from their point of the view and from the speaker's point of view the lane was very "known". Hope I've helped.


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