When is it necessary to use 'the' before the words preceding of-phrases? I've also noticed in some sentences that there is no 'the' before the words preceding of-phrases. When should we not use the even if there is an of-phrase? For example:

(i) You can park your car in (No 'the' here) front of my house.

(ii) You can phone me in (No 'the' here) case of need. Day or night.

"In case of" and "in front of" are complex prepositions. I've also noticed that there is no use of the in some sentences before the words preceding of-phrases which are not complex prepositions. I don't remember their examples.

(iii) The biography of Albert Einstein is very interesting. (The is used here.)

1 Answer 1


There is no 'rule' covering this, only atomic idioms. Looking at your three examples:

(i) In front of X is what some grammarians call a “complex preposition” because the entire phrase acts like a preposition meaning “(spatially) before X”—in fact, in front of has almost entirely replaced before in this sense in US vernacular.
In the front of X is a entirely different matter: this is a prepositional phrase headed by in, which takes the noun phrase the front as its object; of X is another prepositional phrase modifying front. For instance:

The living room is in the front of the house. ... that is, inside the house, in its forward part facing the street.
You'll find the letter in the front of the second drawer. ... that is, inside the drawer, in the part closest to you as you draw it out.

(ii) In case of X is similarly distinguished from in the case of X. In case of X, without the, in case of is a fixed phrase (complex preposition) meaning “in the event of X” or “if X happens”—in your example, “if need arises”. Again, in the case of X is an ordinary preopositional phrase followed by another prepositional phrase modifying the object, case, a noun meaning “instance” or “circumstances” or “matter”:

In the case of the South Tirol, things fell out quite differently than in Czechoslovakia.

(iii) In The biography of Albert Einstein, biography is an ordinary noun modified by an ordinary prepositional phrase.

  • 3
    +1. Note particularly the difference between "in the front of the second drawer" and "in front of the second drawer".
    – Hellion
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 16:41
  • Can I suppose except some complex preposition, in the cases when there is a of-phrase, we should use "the" before the noun?
    – Ahmad
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 6:35

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