These prepositional expressions are not the same, but it is easy to understand the simple difference.
Look at these examples:
- The sculpture stood in front of the building.
- The sculpture stood in the front of the building.
Both look similar, but they are indeed different.
Here is why:
In front of
This means ‘close to the front of something but not part of it’, or ‘outside’. When something is in front of another, it is in a position close to the forward part of it. Note that ‘in front of’ means ‘on the same side’, not ‘opposite’. When a road or path separates two entities(with both on each side), we use ‘opposite’.
‘In front of’ can also mean ‘ahead’.
- My mum stood in front of me at the mall.
- There was a tree in front of the house.
- I packed my car right in front of my house, not on their lawn.
- The truck swerved in front of the school bus and lost traction.
In the front of
The definite article ‘the’ indicates the difference here. The definiteness is what makes this expression easy to understand. ‘In the front of’ means ‘in the most forward part of something’—and part of it.
- The driver sits in the front of the car.
- My room was in the front of the building.
- He sat down on the veranda, just in the front of his house.
- The pilot sat still in the front of the aircraft—as expected.
Note that ‘in the front of’ may be inside or outside. The frontal pillar of a building is in the front of it, though outside the enclosure.
In conclusion, ‘in front of’ indicates ‘forward, but not part of’, while ‘in the front of’ indicates ‘forward, but part of’.