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

Hi,

I work at a library. I've noticed in our press releases that we often put "the" in front of the name of our library. I'm not sure if that's appropriate. Can you please confirm if this usage is correct?

Example: The XYZ University Library is now providing access to thousands of award-winning documentaries, training films, and feature films.

Example: The XYZ Library will host a panel discussion at 5:30 p.m., March 9.

Example: There are more than 1,833,000 volumes housed at the XYZ Library.

Example: XYZ Library is proud to share the announcement that the Western Regional Storage Trust (WEST), of which the XYZ Library is a part, has successfully archived a half a million volumes.

We are a public, state, university library. We're not the New York Public Library.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Hello NM,

It is correct to use the definite article in this way.

First of all, where the library's name is used then 'the' is generally required as the library is identified. Thus we say 'The Bodleian Libraries', 'The Tate Gallery', 'The Louvre' and so on.

Second, the library has already been identified by the fact that the information is on a leaflet from the library.

If you were to use the indefinite article here then you would be saying that the information is true of any library and it is not important which library the reader chooses, which is clearly not your intention.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter.

I guess I wasn't sure if it was necessary to include an article at all.

Instead: XYZ University Library is now providing access to thousands of award-winning documentaries, training films, and feature films.
Instead: XYZ Library will host a panel discussion at 5:30 p.m., March 9.
Instead: There are more than 1,833,000 volumes housed at XYZ Library.

Hello sir :

Peter is the good history teller& professional tour organizer.( here I describe person the listener know him )

is it correct to use article The ( history teller) because I describe a personal characteristic or I should use article A because a general adjective

second : professional tour organizer ( is his volunteer work not his job ) so is correct to use article A or the

Hello nkmg,

We would use the indefinite article here:

Peter is a good history teller...

The reason is that there are many such people and Peter is simply one of them. Unless you mention something specific and unique about him which separates him from all other such people then the indefinite article is needed here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

There was a king who used to go to a slum area. Sir, I think I should article A before Slum area because I'm not specifying any specific slum am I right ? And we alway use definite article the when we say children play in the playground or the ground I think because playground is connected to our daily life day-to-day things Am I right ?

Hello SonuKumar,

Yes, you have interpreted the meaning of 'a' in that context correctly. Both 'the' and 'a' are possible before 'playground', but if we think which playground we are referring to is obvious or known, then we tend to use 'the'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Cronkong,
I want to know the reason of using "the" and "a" in the following sentence.

The big languages are popular for a reason.

Hello unguest89,

Hopefully Crokong will answer, but since they haven't replied yet, I'll answer. 'the' makes it clear that the topic of big languages has already been mentioned previously. We use 'the' for things that have already been mentioned or established. 

'for a reason' suggests that the speaker or writer is about to explain the reason that they have in mind. Since this reason hasn't been specified yet, 'a' is the better choice here.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Kirk. I'm sorry for my mistake, Crokong.

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