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.(= George 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



I really wonder if 'The Pope is visiting Russia' means that there's only one Pope that is visiting Russia?
how about if I say 'I bring an umbrella' instead 'I bring the umbrella'? as we know that article 'the' is used because there's only one

thanks for your help :)

Hello nick_axe,

As I said in an answer to an earlier question, the choice of 'a' or 'the' depends upon whether the speaker and the listener both know which item is being talked about. We say 'the Pope' as there is only one Pope, and therefore everyone knows which is being described. If you say 'the umbrella' then it means both the speaker and the listener know which umbrella is being talked about - perhaps because there is only one in the house, or because we know we are talking about a certain favourite umbrella, for example.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Please, I'm in a tight corner
After the university education, he worked as an actor.
After a university education,.........

Which is correct and why .mentioning the difference.

Hello alfarouk,

Both sentences are possible as the choice of the indefinite or definite article depends upon the context. If we have mentioned the university education before (earlier in the text) then we would probably say 'the'; if we are mentioning it for the first time then 'a' is more likely. We might also say 'his university education' but, again, it depends upon the context.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

I would like to know if I can say " It's the English time" . If yes - in which context.

Hello everyone,
I've got a grammatical question regarding the definite article 'the':
Definite article before of-phrases. I've got quite confused using this phrase; for example, The learning of the third language provides an interesting context for research vs Learning of the third language… (without the definite article ‘the’). I’ve faced a lot of examples like this, interestingly, even in the same book on different pages, one with definite article ‘the’ and the other one or other ones without it!
I've found it rather personal, that is, it depends on the author to whether use it or drop it. I've asked some of my professors holding PhD in TEFL, and they've had the same idea. They say if you ask me whether we should use the definite article in an of-phrase, we can say whether it is necessary to use it, but we do not know why!
I would be grateful if you could clarify the difference between using and not using the definite article ‘the’ in of-phrases, if there is any of course! That is, whether it makes any difference, in meaning, to use it or not use it.
Thank you in advance,

Hello Reza,

I'm not sure the 'of-phrases' are key to this. Isn't this just another example of different types of articles when describing something? For example, 'The lion is a big cat' and 'Lions are big cats'.

Most of the team are on holiday at the moment and so I'm very busy looking after LearnEnglish on my own. If I have time to think more about your question, I'll reply again, but you might have to wait a few weeks until we're all back at work.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Adam,
No, 'of-phrases' is whole another story. The definite article 'the' in 'of-phrases' seeks to define the following 'of-phrase'. But sometimes it is used, while other times not! (as in my example) Because of what? A mystery to me! I've searched a lot on the Internet, and I've found some reasons, but those reasons are specific to that special situation and cannot be generalised.
Am I required to remind you to answer my question in the next few weeks? Because you're busy managing LearnEnglish and may forget to answer my question.