Can I use the without specifying what object I am talking about? For example, it is well known I can use the if I specify what the object is that I am talking about.

"The boy sitting next to me is annoying."

However, I would like to know if I can still use "The" when the object is only known to the narrator or the person I am describing. For example:

"The sea was beautiful. I shall forever remember the azure sky under which it sat the day I sat by the beach and I met this strange girl with blue hair. Let me tell you a story about..."

Also under which conditions can you use "the" exactly? Most grammar articles are super general and only say it's when the specific object is known, but by whom? There are so many edge cases that such a statement isn't useful.

  • 4
    I do not think you are correctly understanding the definition of "specific object is known" This question, reworded may do better on English Language Usage. In short, the just means that the object is specific, and not an abstract idea of the object.
    – Andrey
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 17:22
  • It would be perfectly valid to say "The idea came to John while he was sleeping."
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 23:16

3 Answers 3


All the definite article "the" does is point to a specific instance of whatever it is you're talking about. It doesn't matter who "knows" about the object, the use of "the" only indicates that the object is a particular one being referred to.

"The apple is red" is a perfectly valid sentence, regardless of who knows whatever particular apple I'm talking about. It indicates that there is a particular apple, known to the speaker or writer, that is being described.


The Woman aka Irene Adler (Sherlock Holmes)

Whether you are writing poetry or fiction (shorts or epics), you are an artist.

As an artist, you can claim a large degree of artistic liberty.

Anyone who follows all the rules isn't going to be a particularly good artist.

You can start your novel with "The" "That" or any number of words..

I can totally start a novel with "That asshole!! I swear he will not get away with it this time!"

You can totally start a novel with "the".. Now let's have some fun:

"The end is neigh."

"The fun has just begun!"

"The thing about murder is, it is just so mundane 98% of the time."

"The man in the pink suit. That's the man behind all this."


You use the definite article when it makes sense to use it. The only reason people are reluctant to use it to begin a novel is it is such a useful little word that is shows up everywhere.

Read your piece aloud and listen carefully. Would it sound better, make more sense and have better flow with or without our friend the definite article?

The Moving Finger writes and having writ, moves on. Nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line nor all thy tears wash out a word of it

Edward FitzGerald was unfraid of using it to begin the translation of Omar Khayyam’s masterworks.

As I am sure you know, it indicates a particular item, instance or being. Since it was Fate, the definite article is natural. If it were some random person tracing symbols in the sand by the water’s edge, it could have been the indefinite article.

The first line of my novel starts with it:

The only sound was the rain

I could have chosen ‘it was raining’ but that didn’t sound right. My ear told me it was the right choice.

  • You could have also started with "It was a dark and stormy night" :P Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 19:24
  • I am trying to avoid cliches whenever possible - especially at the beginning. If I picked up a book and read that as the first line, might not go further unless the synopsis hooked me
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 19:31
  • I was teasing. :) Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 19:32
  • Good to know. Cliches are cliches for a reason - I actually thought for a moment D&S but stopped before I could finish the thought.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 19:40

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