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

Should I use 'the' before people or not?
The culprit faced the wrath of the people.

Hello Asgharkhan8,

Without knowing the context we can only speak in terms of what is probably expected and I would say that yes, you need to definite article here. Although it is possible to imagine a context in which you would not use the definite article (the wrath of people as opposed to the wrath of god, for example), it is very unlikely.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

How do you do?
Please I have a question
Which is correct:
a hundred years later or hundred years later?
because I read in a book a hundred years although the word years is plural

Hello Hbod,

'a hundred years later' is correct, though I can see how that could be a bit confusing. The number 100 is pronounced either 'one hundred' or 'a hundred', and although it can be considered one unit with 100 parts in it, when used before a noun (like 'year'), the noun goes in the plural. Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk. Is it correct to say - To initiate a change, I need a date and time window and a technician. Is 'a' required before both date and time window and technician? Can you give more clarity on using the same article twice? Or its elimination?

Hello Swati,

You should use 'a' before both 'date and time window' and 'technician' in this sentence. It might help to think that the time window and the technician are two separate entities, and there is only one of each. 'a' can only be used to refer to one thing, not two separate ones.

You could probably find some similar sentences in which people leave out 'a' before the second thing, but strictly speaking it should be there.

Finally, I thought I'd just mention that the technical name for omitting words to avoid repetition is 'ellipsis'. It's a big topic, but if you follow the link you can see a basic explanation of it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello dear friends,
I wanted to ask
My sister is a student.Her friends are (the) students too?With the or without?
They have (the) dictations in class. With the or without?
They do (the) exercises at home.With the or without?
Thank you in advance

Hello Tatevik,

Is this homework? We're happy to help you with questions you have about our site, but for homework, please ask your teacher. In the sentences you ask about, I'd not use 'the', though in some cases it could be possible. It really depends on the context and what you mean. For example, in the last sentence, if you've already mentioned some specific exercises, then you should use 'the'. If it's the first time you're mentioning exercises, then 'the' shouldn't be used.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
Would you please let me know if we should put 'the' before the name of mountains? For example which one is correct? the Everest or Everest?
and I saw in some papers Mt Everest without the! But you mentioned above, for geographical features we should put the!

Hello Sahar,

Actually, what it says above is that we use 'the' with:

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.

As you can see, it doesn't mention specific mountains, because with most specific mountains, such as Mt Everest, we don't use 'the'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Pages