Let's start by examining a phrase. ‘The children are smaller than the adult’. Do you think this is a grammatically correct sentence?
Because of the inclusion of the word 'the', it is not. Mistakes such as these may seem small, but they are common amongst many international English learners. The good news is they can easily be avoided by following a few simple rules and today we will look at why and when you use 'the' or 'a' in a sentence.
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IELTS Writing Tips
1. What are the differences between ‘The’ and ‘A’?
‘The’ is generally used for specific things.
Example: If you are looking for the university your friend is attending, check the location.
If you say, ‘I am looking for a university’, the university could be any university. However, if you say, ‘I am looking for the university’, you are making it clear you are searching for a specific location.
2. 'The’ as a referral
Next, lets pretend your mobile phone has been stolen and you have reported it to the police.
- John: 'A man has stolen my mobile.'
- Policeman: 'Do you remember the man’s face? Is this the man who stole your phone?'
- John: ‘This is the man who has stolen my phone!'
There are a few very specific things to analyse here. John uses ‘a’ in his first sentence because he has not yet specified anybody. However, the policeman uses ‘the’, since they can specifically refer to the man John mentioned earlier. Finally, John use ‘the’ because he can specifically single out the man who stole his phone.
3. You do not need to be specific
When using general terms, you do not always need to use either ‘the’ or ‘a’.
Example: I like oranges.
This refer to orange as generic term, but neither the specific orange (‘the’) nor an orange. Think of 'the' as a highlighter which shines a light on specific terms.
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