They ran to the door of the cellar, but Toto was afraid, and he ran under the bed.
-Chapter 1 of The Wizard of Oz(Oxford Bookworms Library Stage 1)

In this book, There is no bed that have been mentioned. And I don't know anything about the bed. But as you can see, the definite article “the” is used in front of the word "bed".

I really do not know what the definite article means.

Could you explain me why the definite article is used?

  • 1
    "A bed" could imply that there were multiple beds in the room. "The bed" is more likely to imply that there is only one, regardless of whether it's known about or not.
    – Catija
    May 22, 2015 at 5:20
  • 1
    What about the door and the cellar? We use the all the time to make definite references to things that are identifiable from context or knowledge about the world. Probably 2 out of 3 uses of the are first mentions. Read any magazine or newspaper article. As for the wizard, it's a book title.
    – user6951
    May 24, 2015 at 12:43
  • The writer believes you do know some things about the bed, namely that it exists and that a dog can run under it, and that it is in whatever room the dog is in. It should be no surprise to you that some rooms have beds in them, just like some houses have cellars to them, and that cellars have doors. That is enough to make a definite reference to these objects.
    – user6951
    May 24, 2015 at 12:46

3 Answers 3


There are two possibilities here.


I was standing in my kitchen. I looked over at the sink.

The familiar context of a (typical modern) kitchen with one sink causes the speaker to use the definite article; the speaker doesn't stop to question the notion that a kitchen has but one sink. It's almost automatic for the speaker to use "the".

If the speaker is standing in the bedroom of a person who does not share the room with another sibling, it would be natural to say "under the bed" as there is only one bed in such a room.

The second explanation: "to run under the bed" is a collocation which means "to run under and cower beneath a bed".

My dog is afraid of fire engines. Whenever he hears one, he runs under the bed.

It might be the same bed, or any bed in the house. The speaker does not care, for the speaker is not referring to a particular bed. The speaker is referring to the act of hiding under a bed in fright.

P.S. In English-speaking countries beds are frequently on a raised platform on four legs, with a small space between the mattress support and the floor below.


The is used to signify that a noun is something that:

  • was earlier mentioned/talked about in conversation.

  • is directly observable by both parties of the conversation. Take the ball there and throw it - when a ball is at a person's feet.

  • is something assumed to "directly observable" by default, i.e. something that is assumed to be known or obvious to anyone. This, of course, depends heavily on context and culture. If a house has only one bedroom, it may be referred to as the bedroom.

They ran to the door of the cellar, but Toto was afraid, and he ran under the bed.

I would say the author is assuming it's obvious that "the bed" refers to Dorothy's bed. Of couse, we don't really know which bed, if there are multiple beds in the house (I haven't read this book), and the author may have chosen to let that detail be unspecified if it was deemed not important to the story.


It implies that there is only 'one' bed under which he runs. I often read the article 'the' even though the thing has never been described before. This means, there's only one such thing as mentioned.

For instance,

Ruby ran out of the house and looked at the tower.

This could be the first line of any novel. Though 'house' and 'tower' are are not described yet, they convey the message that they are unique and the only ones as far as that event is concerned.

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