Thursday, January 6, 2011

In praise of the article

As a non-native speaker of English language, I have always struggled with the elusive article, especially ‘the’. When  should ‘the’ be used is not intuitive to me. Therefore, I rely on rules to determine when to use an article. 

Over the years one should not expect any change in the frequency of use of articles in English language. However, one could observe a significant decline in the use of the definite article (the) in American and British English. See the graph below, which shows that in American English the definite article ‘the’ represented 5.5% of the words used in the books published in English in the United States. These are the books scanned by Google as part of its initiative to digitize every published book. However, one sees a decline in the use of the article ‘the’ starting in 1970s. I wonder why. Is the language referring more to proper nouns and hence the decline in ‘the’. Also ‘the’ has been used much more frequently than ‘a’ or ‘an’.


The books published in English in England and scanned by Google present almost a similar trend, which is visible in the graph below.


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