"The new laws are seen as an attempt to gag the press." In this sentence why the definite article 'the' is used before 'laws'(noun). I always get confused when to use 'the' and when not to. My teacher taught me, it is used when both speaker and listener are aware of what they are talking about i.e. both of them are familiar with that(noun). Can someone please clarify this? I have a feeling that I should've used 'the' before 'speaker' and 'listener' in the above sentence. Am I right?

  • Your first sentence cannot be the first mention of the topic in general (if not the new laws themselves); there is some context missing that informs this usage of the definite article here. Without prior discourse, the question can't really be further addressed. // Using 'the' before 'speaker' and 'listener' is optional here, but should be balanced (not just one article). // Learning all the subtleties associated with article usage takes a lifetime. For instance,... – Edwin Ashworth Apr 7 at 16:05
  • 'My teacher taught me that it is used when both speaker and listener are aware of what they are talking about' uses the null article (twice) (after Masters), not the zero article. Not many people know that. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 7 at 16:05

To me, the context supplies the shared familiarity. In other words, there were "old" laws but "new" ones have appeared and their newness makes them specific and separates them out from the general category of "laws" so that both reader and writer know which laws are being discussed.

It's this separating out a countable noun from a larger more general category, which seems central to using the definite article, or at least that is what I have read, as I have labored over how to teach this aspect of English.

But the previous poster is correct, there are endless subtleties associated with learning how to use articles in English

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