“The” is a structure word that is often used as a content word as in it is referring to the only thing or only one that matters.
E.g. as an ordinary structure word: “I’m going to get “the” groceries.”
As a content word:
“The” Ohio State University. Really. The university is alphabetized under the t’s in lists of schools!
My own personal use of “the“:
“The” Lake (Lake Erie)
“The” Bay (Put ‘n Bay)
“The” Boat (our boat at Lake Erie)
“The” Island (Washington Island)
“The” Cabin (our place on “the” Island)
“The” Cats (ours of course)!
When students were introducing themselves at the speed reading course I was teaching for Upper Arlington’s summer school some of them said “I go to “the” High School” as opposed to any other schools that might be represented in the group.
Sometimes the word “the” can be very confusing. If it’s being used to define “the” only item but instead it could be one of many, it creates poor communication. As in on “the” Boat when “the” Captain asks me to get “the” Line–there are a lot of lines (ropes) on a sailboat, he is “the” only person who knows what he wants but I am supposed to!
Often the word “the” requires insider information. Here in Columbus when people say they are going to “the” Shoe, they are referring to “The” Ohio State University’s football stadium — not to footwear! Just like reading, it takes prior knowledge to understand the context.
The word “that” can also be problematic as in getting the request to get “that” thing by the previously mentioned Captain! There are a lot of things! English teachers and writers are good at clarifying what “the” and “that” are referencing. The rest of us think you should just know!
What are your “thes”? Share them with us.