The definite article the is the most frequent word in English.

We use the definite article in front of a noun when we believe the hearer/reader knows exactly what we are referring to.

• because there is only one:

The Pope is visiting Russia.
The moon is very bright tonight.
The Shah of Iran was deposed in 1979.

This is why we use the definite article with a superlative adjective:

He is the tallest boy in the class.
It is the oldest building in the town.

• because there is only one in that place or in those surroundings:

 

We live in a small village next to the church.  =  (the church in our village)
Dad, can I borrow the car? = (the car that belongs to our family)
When we stayed at my grandmother’s house we went to the beach every day.  =  (the beach near my grandmother’s house)
Look at the boy in the blue shirt over there.  = (the boy I am pointing at)

 

 
• because we have already mentioned it:

A woman who fell 10 metres from High Peak was lifted to safety by a helicopter. The woman fell while climbing.
The rescue is the latest in a series of incidents on High Peak. In January last year two men walking on the peak were killed in a fall. 

We also use the definite article:

• to say something about all the things referred to by a noun:

The wolf is not really a dangerous animal (= Wolves are not really dangerous animals)
The kangaroo is found only in Australia (= Kangaroos are found only in Australia)
The heart pumps blood around the body. (= Hearts pump blood around bodies)

We use the definite article in this way to talk about musical instruments:

Joe plays the piano really well.(= Joe can play any piano)
She is learning the guitar.(= She is learning to play any guitar)

• to refer to a system or service:

How long does it take on the train?
I heard it on the radio.
You should tell the police.

• With adjectives like rich, poor, elderly, unemployed to talk about groups of people:

Life can be very hard for the poor.
I think the rich should pay more taxes.
She works for a group to help the disabled.

The definite article with names:

We do not normally use the definite article with names:

William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.
Paris is the capital of France.
Iran is in Asia.

But we do use the definite article with:

countries whose names include words like kingdom, states or republic:

the United Kingdom; the Kingdom of Nepal; the United States; the People’s Republic of China.

countries which have plural nouns as their names:

the Netherlands; the Philippines

geographical features, such as mountain ranges, groups of islands, rivers, seas, oceans and canals:

the Himalayas; the Canaries; the Atlantic; the Atlantic Ocean; the Amazon; the Panama Canal.

newspapers:

The Times; The Washington Post

• well known buildings or works of art:

the Empire State Building; the Taj Mahal; the Mona Lisa; the Sunflowers

organisations:

the United Nations; the Seamen’s Union

hotels, pubs and restaurants*:

the Ritz; the Ritz Hotel; the King’s Head; the Déjà Vu

*Note: We do not use the definite article if the name of the hotel or restaurant is the name of the owner, e.g.,Brown’s; Brown’s Hotel; Morel’s; Morel’s Restaurant, etc.

families:

the Obamas; the Jacksons

Exercise

Section: 

Comments

Could you tell me whether I have to use "the" before the word questions in this sentence if I don't mean exact questions or we have to use "the" because interview questions are usually typicall:
"What points should you especially focus on while answering the questions at a job interview?"

Hello Ellenna,

This question could be written (1) 'while answering questions' and also (2) 'while answering the questions'. If you use the second version (with 'the'), it implies that you've already mentioned some specific questions or types of questions earlier in your writing. The first version is more general and could be used, for example, when you first mention the topic.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello!

Should we use "the" before Big Ben?

When a famous building takes the name of a person or a nickname, should we use "the"?

Hello Chiranjib Sahoo,

No, 'the' is not used before 'Big Ben'. Actually, 'Big Ben' refers to the bell inside the clock at the top of the building, which is called Elizabeth Tower. It's true that people often refer to the building with the name 'Big Ben', but no-one says 'the Big Ben' – perhaps for the reason I've just explained.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

I know that if there is a limited choice of something, we need to use "which" in the sentence. So, I have to say: "Which do you prefer to drink when you are thirsty: water or juice?" Could you tell me if it's correct and if I can say: "What do you prefer to drink: water or juice?" Thank you!

Hello Ellenna,

Yes, you can say the sentence with either 'what' or 'which'. You are correct in your description of the difference but it is not a hard and fixed rule and there is a lot of flexibility here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, I have some doubts wether I should say " I work at the Commercial Court or in the ... or without "the".
I hope you can help me with this.
Thanks in advance.
Best regards
Maja

Hello Majamasic,

Both 'at' and 'in' are grammatically possible. I would say that 'at' is more common here.

We would use 'the' in this sentence. Courts in general have a definite article: the High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court etc.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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