definite article: the


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.


The Times; The Washington Post

• well known buildings or works of art:

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


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.


the Obamas; the Jacksons



Dear Learn English Team,

I have a doubt regarding use of "the" before nouns such as science or modern society etc... for ex- In spite of the exalted position of the science and rational thinking in the modern society .
Is this sentence correct ?
Thank you

Hello prinkesh,

We would not use an article here as both 'science' and 'rational thinking' are abstract nouns and you are talking about them in general terms.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Should a question mark not be used at the end of the sentence mentioned above as an example?

How long does it take on the train.

Hello editorgcube,

Yes, it should - thank you for spotting this error! I have corrected this on the page.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

When writing a contract, I start by naming the parties like Mr. A (referred to as Lessor) and Mr. B (referred to as Lessee)... further down my document when referring to the parties should I use the article "the" to referr to the Lessor and the Lessee, or is it correct if I write Lessor shall such and such, and Lessee will do....

Hello sir,
i can not understand properly - ''because we already mentioned it'' part.
please help what it say.

Hello yogesh mani tripathi,

The first time we mention something we generally use 'a', unless it is unique or already known. After that, we use 'the'. For example:

I met a man in the park yesterday. The man told me that he was a doctor and...

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear LearnEnglish Team,
I’m a native speaker of U.S. English helping an ESL student with his studies. Thank you for this wonderful and comprehensive resource! We have found it very useful.
Guideline #5 on the page about indefinite articles reads “We use a/an with a singular noun to say something about all things of that kind.” Then on the page about definite articles we find that they are used “to say something about all the things referred to by a noun.” I’m anticipating my student is going to ask me “isn’t this the same thing?” and frankly I’m not prepared with an answer. Can you help? Using the examples given, there is definitely a difference between “A man needs friends” and “The man needs friends.” The same difference appears when we compare “A dog likes to eat meat” and “The dog likes to eat meat.” What would you say? Is there perhaps a better way of phrasing these guidelines that doesn’t make them sound interchangeable?
Best regards from America,
Mr. Emerson

Hello Mr. Emerson,

This is a complex issue, as I'm sure you know. You can find an earlier answer to a very similar question here and I think that will help to clarify it for you. Please take a look at that and let us know if it helps.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team