It’s not often we think about the things we’re totally used to in life. So when was the last time you stopped to ponder the most frequent word you say every day? Surely, you know what the hell I’m talking about, it’s used 7% of the time we ever say a word in the English language. Even this paragraph has included seven iterations of the word.
I’m talking about the word the.
What is the meaning of the word “the”?
The word “the” is an article used in English grammar, meaning things already mentioned, being talked about, implied or presumed for anyone listening, reading, or speaking.
As mentioned, the word “the” is the most frequently used word in the entire English language. Studies have shown it’s likely in the range of 7% of all printed English words, too.
The word “the” traces its history back to Old English, which later on combined Middle English with to have a single form able to be used with any gender.
It can also be used with nouns of the plural and singular type, or with a noun starting with any letter of the alphabet. Other languages are often different, where the grammatical article has different forms depending on the gender or number of words.
Is the word “the” trademarked?
Yes, in 2019 Ohio State University filed for a trademark of the word “the” with its name. Apparently, their school has been using “THE” alongside “Ohio State University” on their merchandise since 1986. It even brings in over $10 million a year.
I suppose that’s why the patent was awarded to them in 2022. As part of this, they had a trademark dispute with Marc Jacobs after they wanted to use “THE” on their own merchandise. They settled in 2021 by allowing Marc Jacobs to use a different version of “the” on their clothing.
What does “the” mean?
According to Merriam-Webster’s, the word “the” has 23 different meanings. So, the word “the” can be used in almost any way imaginable.
The different meanings of “the” are:
“The” as a definite article:
- “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”. Example: “put the cat out”
- “used as a function word to indicate that a following noun or noun equivalent is a unique or a particular member of its class”. Example: “the President”
- “used as a function word before nouns that designate natural phenomena or points of the compass”. Example: “the night is cold”
- “used as a function word before a noun denoting time to indicate reference to what is present or immediate or is under consideration”. Example: “in the future”
- “used as a function word before names of some parts of the body or of the clothing as an equivalent of a possessive adjective”. Example: “how’s the arm today”
- “Used as a function word before the name of a branch of human endeavor or proficiency”. Example: “the law”
- “used as a function word in prepositional phrases to indicate that the noun in the phrase serves as a basis for computation” Example: “sold by the dozen”
- “used as a function word before a proper name (as of a ship or a well-known building)”. Example: “the Mayflower”
- “used as a function word before a proper name to indicate the distinctive characteristics of a person or thing”. Example: “the John Doe that we know wouldn’t lie”
- “used as a function word before the plural form of a surname to indicate all the members of a family”. Example: “the Johnsons”
- “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”. Example:” life in the twenties”
- “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”. Example: “talked on the telephone”
- “used as a function word to designate one of a class as the best, most typical, best known, or most worth singling out” Example: “this is the life the pill” … “sometimes used before a personal name to denote the most prominent bearer of that name”.
- “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”. Example: “the right answer, Peter the Great”
- “used as a function word before an absolute adjective or an ordinal number”. Example: “nothing but the best”
- “used as a function word before a noun to limit its application to that specified by a succeeding element in the sentence”. Example: “didn’t have the time to write”
- “used as a function word after a person’s name to indicate a characteristic trait or notorious activity specified by the succeeding noun”. Example: “Jack the Ripper”
- “used as a function word before a singular noun to indicate that the noun is to be understood generically”. Example: “the dog is a domestic animal”
- “used as a function word before a singular substantivized adjective to indicate an abstract idea”. Example: “an essay on the sublime”
- “used as a function word before a noun or a substantivized adjective to indicate reference to a group as a whole”. Example: “the elite”
“The” as an adverb:
- “than before : than otherwise — used before a comparative”. Example: “none the wiser for attending”
- “to what extent” Example: “the sooner the better”
- “to that extent” Example: “the sooner the better”
- “beyond all others” Example: “likes this the best”
“The” as a preposition:
- per, as in including every single thing in a specified group of things Example: “a dollar the dozen”
“The” as a combining form:
- a god of a religion Example: “theism theocentric”
And there you have it, all of the many different meanings of the word “the”. I hope you enjoyed learning more about this big but overlooked part of our every day lives.
You might also be interested in learning about the difference between favorite and favourite.