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

Hello,
I have just joined the forum and must say the The Learn English team is doing a fabulous job.
I'd like to know when the definite article is omitted before nouns like hospital,school etc.
For example, does a doctor go to hospital or the hospital ?
Looking forward to your reply.
Regards

Dear The LearnEnglish Team,

I have a question about definitive article;

Why we are using "the" for some abbreviation like "the UN" and not using some abbreviation like "NATO"?

Best regards,

Hello akacan,

Both 'NATO' and 'UN' are acronyms, and articles are usually dropped in acronyms, though there are exceptions (such as 'the UN'). Note that these two acronyms are pronounced differently – 'NATO' is pronounced as a word (/ˈneɪ.t̬oʊ/), whereas when we say 'UN' we read the two letters in sequence (/ju en/). This may be the reason 'NATO' is used without 'the' and 'the UN' is.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,

Thanks for useful and quick answer.

Best regards

Hello Peter,

Thanks for useful insight.

Hello,

Rule: 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.

But exception to this rule (Note mentioned above) is not followed by Oberoi Resorts and Hotels. Oberoi is the name of the hotel owner. But on the hotel website site The Oberoi is written. http://www.oberoihotels.com/hotels-in-morocco-marrakech/

So Oberoi, Marrakech is correct or The Oberoi, Marrakech?

Hello afs_spunky,

Normally the rule is as it is stated on the page. However, note that your example is a little different. The examples we give are names with 's after them, and in that case there is no article (Brown's, McDonald's). Your example is just the name. In the end, the owner of the hotel chain can call it anything he or she wishes, and if it is non-standard then that is his or her choice!

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir or Madam

It’s for a long time I have been trying to understand the correct uses of articles. However, the only problem for which I still have not found a solution is when we are told that we shouldn’t use THE for general countable nouns that are not specific. My question is that in the following two sentences the word "students" for me is considered as a general countable noun that respectively refers to specific universities of the University of Berlin and the English department. However, THE has not been written before the mentioned examples.

Students at the University of Berlin attended a big festival in Bochum.
Students of the English department attended a big festival in Bochum.

The other issue that really confuses me is that based on the following url by the University of Torento:
http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/english-as-a-second-language/defin...

If the noun is followed by a dependent clause (who/which/that) or a prepositional phrase (of/in/to...), it is made definite and takes the definite article. The man who lives next door is Chinese.

In the previous mentioned examples "Students" are followed by the preposition of "of" so they can be considered as definite nouns to which "The" should be added but why we cannot find "The" before them.
I would be extremely if you could clarify the issue by tangible examples.
Best regards,

Hello Hamid,

In the two sentences about students that you mention, it is possible to use 'the' and also possible to use the 'zero' article (i.e. write them as above). These two forms have slightly different meanings. As they are written above, they mean that some students (though not all) attended a festival; written with 'the', they would mean all students attended a festival. With 'the', it also implies that they attended as a group, whereas with the 'zero' article it could be that they attended in different groups.

I hope that helps clarify it for you a bit more. Articles are an extremely difficult topic to master, partly because they are so ubiquitous, but it looks as if you have a good handle on them.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello!
I live near a lake and when there are some clouds in the sky, we can see their shadows over the water. So, referring to a past day, should I say "I like the shadows cast by the clouds over the water" or "I like the shadows cast by clouds over the water"?
Thanks in advance!

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