the

1 of 4

definite article

before consonants usually
t͟hə How to pronounce the (audio)
 before vowels usually  t͟hē,
 sometimes before vowels also  t͟hə;
for emphasis before titles and names or to suggest uniqueness often
ˈt͟hē How to pronounce the (audio)
1
a
used as a function word to indicate that a following noun or noun equivalent is definite or has been previously specified by context or by circumstance
put the cat out
b
used as a function word to indicate that a following noun or noun equivalent is a unique or a particular member of its class
the Presidentthe Lord
c
used as a function word before nouns that designate natural phenomena or points of the compass
the night is cold
d
used as a function word before a noun denoting time to indicate reference to what is present or immediate or is under consideration
in the future
e
used as a function word before names of some parts of the body or of the clothing as an equivalent of a possessive adjective
how's the arm today
f
used as a function word before the name of a branch of human endeavor or proficiency
the law
g
used as a function word in prepositional phrases to indicate that the noun in the phrase serves as a basis for computation
sold by the dozen
h
used as a function word before a proper name (as of a ship or a well-known building)
the Mayflower
i
used as a function word before a proper name to indicate the distinctive characteristics of a person or thing
the John Doe that we know wouldn't lie
j
used as a function word before the plural form of a surname to indicate all the members of a family
the Johnsons
k
used as a function word before the plural form of a numeral that is a multiple of ten to denote a particular decade of a century or of a person's life
life in the twenties
l
used as a function word before the name of a commodity or any familiar appurtenance of daily life to indicate reference to the individual thing, part, or supply thought of as at hand
talked on the telephone
m
used as a function word to designate one of a class as the best, most typical, best known, or most worth singling out
this is the lifethe pill
sometimes used before a personal name to denote the most prominent bearer of that name
2
a(1)
used as a function word with a noun modified by an adjective or by an attributive noun to limit the application of the modified noun to that specified by the adjective or by the attributive noun
the right answerPeter the Great
(2)
used as a function word before an absolute adjective or an ordinal number
nothing but the bestdue on the first
b(1)
used as a function word before a noun to limit its application to that specified by a succeeding element in the sentence
the poet Wordsworththe days of our youthdidn't have the time to write
(2)
used as a function word after a person's name to indicate a characteristic trait or notorious activity specified by the succeeding noun
Jack the Ripper
3
a
used as a function word before a singular noun to indicate that the noun is to be understood generically
the dog is a domestic animal
b
used as a function word before a singular substantivized adjective to indicate an abstract idea
an essay on the sublime
4
used as a function word before a noun or a substantivized adjective to indicate reference to a group as a whole
the elite

the

2 of 4

adverb

1
: than before : than otherwise
used before a comparative
none the wiser for attending
2
a
: to what extent
the sooner the better
b
: to that extent
the sooner the better
3
: beyond all others
likes this the best

the

3 of 4

preposition

: per sense 2
a dollar the dozen

the-

4 of 4

combining form

variants or theo-
: god : God
theism
theocentric

Word History

Etymology

Definite article and Preposition

Middle English, from Old English thē, masculine demonstrative pronoun & definite article, alteration (influenced by oblique cases — as thæs, genitive — & neuter, thæt) of ; akin to Greek ho, masculine demonstrative pronoun & definite article — more at that

Adverb

Middle English, from Old English thȳ by that, instrumental of thæt that

Combining form

Middle English theo-, from Latin, from Greek the-, theo-, from theos

First Known Use

Definite Article

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Adverb

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Preposition

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of the was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near the

Cite this Entry

“The.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/the. Accessed 7 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition

the 1 of 2

definite article

t͟hə How to pronounce the (audio)
 (especially before consonant sounds and sometimes vowel sounds in Southern speech),  t͟hē,
 (before vowel sounds); 1e is often  ˈt͟hē
1
a
used to indicate that a following noun or term functioning as a noun has been already made known by context or by circumstance
put the cat out
b
used to indicate that a following noun or term functioning as a noun is a unique or a particular member of its class
the Presidentthe sun
c
used before nouns that designate natural phenomena or points of the compass
the night is cold
wind came from the east
d
used before a noun denoting time to indicate reference to what is present or immediate or is under consideration
in the future
e
used before names of some parts of the body or of the clothing as an equivalent of a possessive adjective
how's the arm todaygrabbed me by the collar
f
used before the name of a branch of human activity
the law
g
used in prepositional phrases to indicate that the noun in the phrase serves as a basis for calculation
sold by the dozen
h
used before a proper name (as of a ship or a well-known building)
the Mayflower
i
used before a proper name to indicate the distinctive characteristics of a person or thing
the John Doe that we know wouldn't lie
j
used before the plural form of a surname to indicate all the members of a family
the Johnsons
k
used before the plural form of a numeral that is a multiple of ten to denote a particular decade of a century or of a person's life
life in the twenties
l
used before the name of something used in daily life to indicate reference to the individual thing, part, or supply thought of as at hand
talked on the telephone
m
used to designate one of a class as the best, most typical, best known, or most worth singling out
this is the lifewas the player in today's game
2
a
used with a modified noun to limit the application of the noun to that specified by the modifier
the right answerPeter the Great
b
used before an absolute adjective or an ordinal number
nothing but the bestpayment is due on the first
c
used before a noun to limit its application to that specified by a following element in the sentence
the poet Wordsworthdidn't have the time to write
d
used after a person's name to indicate a characteristic trait or notorious activity specified by the following noun
Jack the Ripper
3
a
used before a singular noun to indicate that the noun is to be understood as representative of a whole class
good advice for the beginner
b
used before an adjective functioning as a noun to indicate an abstract idea
an essay on the sublime
4
used before a noun or an adjective functioning as a noun to indicate reference to a group as a whole
the richthe homeless

the

2 of 2

adverb

1
: than before : than otherwise
none the wiser for attending
2
a
: to what extent
the sooner the better
b
: to that extent
the sooner the better

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