Meaning of “the” in the English Dictionary

"the" in British English

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thedeterminer

uk strong /ðiː/ weak /ðə/ us strong /ðiː/ weak /ðə/

the determiner (PARTICULAR)

A1 used before nouns to refer to particular things or people that have already been talked about or are already known or that are in a situation where it is clear what is happening:

I just bought a new shirt and some new shoes. The shirt was pretty expensive, but the shoes weren't.
Please would you pass the salt.
I'll pick you up at the airport.

A1 used before some nouns that refer to place when you want to mention that type of place, without showing exactly which example of the place you mean:

We spent all day at the beach.
Let's go to the movies this evening.
I have to go to the bank and get some Euros.

A1 used before noun phrases in which the range of meaning of the noun is limited in some way:

I really enjoyed the book I've just finished reading.
Do you like the other kids in your class?

A1 used to refer to things or people when only one exists at any one time:

What will happen in the future?
After I leave college, I want to travel around the world.
They live in the north of Spain.
Ed Koch was for many years the mayor of New York.
When we went to Paris, we went up the Eiffel Tower.

A2 used before superlatives and other words, such as "first" or "only" or numbers showing something's position in a list, to refer to only one thing or person:

That was one of the best films I've ever seen.
What's the highest mountain in Asia?
I will never forget the first time we met.
You're the fifth person to ask me that question.

used to say that the particular person or thing being mentioned is the best, most famous, etc. In this use, "the" is usually given strong pronunciation:

Harry's Bar is the place to go.
You don't mean you met the Will Smith (= the film star), do you?

used before some adjectives to turn the adjectives into nouns that refer to one particular person or thing described by the adjective:

It seems that the deceased (= this particular dead person) had no living relatives.
I suppose we'll just have to wait for the inevitable (= the particular thing that is certain to happen).

used before some adjectives to turn the adjectives into nouns that refer to people or things in general that can be described by the adjective:

She lives in a special home for the elderly.
The French were defeated at Waterloo in 1815.

used before a singular noun to refer to all the things or people represented by that noun:

The car is responsible for causing a lot of damage to our environment.

used before a family name to refer to two people who are married or to a whole family:

The Jacksons are coming to visit on Saturday.

used before some nouns referring to musical instruments or dances to mean the type of instrument or dance in general:

Nico is learning to play the piano.
Can you do the waltz?

used before a noun to represent the activity connected with that noun:

I'm going under the knife (= having a medical operation) next week.
It's not a good idea to spend more than three hours at the wheel (= driving a vehicle) without a break.

B2 used before numbers that refer to periods of ten years:

the 60s

B2 used before each of two comparative adjectives or adverbs when you want to show how one amount gets bigger or smaller in relation to the other:

The sooner I get this piece of work done, the sooner I can go home.

used before comparative adjectives or adverbs when you want to show that someone or something has become more or less of a particular state:

She doesn't seem to be any the worse for her bad experience.

used for emphasis when you are expressing a strong opinion about someone or something:

André's got a new job, the lucky devil.

More examples

the determiner (YOUR)

B1 used instead of a possessive adjective such as your, her, or my:

He held his daughter by the arm (= her arm).
I can't remember where I parked the (= my) car.

More examples

the determiner (ENOUGH)

enough:

I'd like to go out tonight, but I don't think I have the energy.
[ + to infinitive ] I don't have the time to talk to you now.

More examples

(Definition of “the” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"the" in American English

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thedefinite article

us /ðə, ði/

the definite article (PARTICULAR)

used before a noun to refer to a particular thing because it is clear which thing is intended:

I just bought a new shirt and tie. The shirt was expensive, but the tie wasn’t.
There’s someone at the front door.
I’ll pick you up at the airport at 6 o’clock.

"The" is used before some nouns to refer to a type of activity or thing intended:

Let’s go to the movies.

"The" is used to refer to things or people when only one exists at any one time:

"The" is also used before superlatives and other words, such as first or only or numbers:

What’s the highest mountain in North America?
She’s leaving on the 24th of May.

"The" can mean each or every:

My car gets 30 miles to the gallon.

When used before some adjectives, "the" changes the adjective into a noun to refer to all of what is described:

You can use "the" before a singular noun to refer to all the things or people represented by that noun:

Nicole is learning to play the piano.

You use "the" before numbers that refer to periods of 10 years:

the 1930s

the definite article (YOUR)

used instead of your, my, his, her, etc.:

He tapped me on the (= my) shoulder.
How are Grace and the (= her) kids?

the definite article (ENOUGH)

enough:

He hasn’t got the experience for this kind of work.

(Definition of “the” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

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