This summer I’ve done quite a lot of editing work on academic papers written by students who do not have English as a first language. On the whole, the level of English has been quite impressive – especially to someone like me, who seems incapable of learning another language – but one recurring theme has been the struggle with the use of ‘the’ as the definite article.
Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be an occasional error, either, but one that can occur at least 70% of the time, whether it be adding the when it is unnecessary, or omitting it when needed. There does appear to be a general decline in the use of the as the English language is evolving to become less formal, but I wonder if there are any easy pointers for students?
This article on the BBC’s website was the most succinct I could find. There’s no denying it must be a nightmare for anyone learning English!