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.

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

Comments

Hello! I have a question regarding the definite articles in titles, more specifically page names of geographical locations at online resources such as Wikipedia or Wiki sites.
A specific site where I'm moderating recently had a proposal to adapt "The" in all the titles/names of such pages. However, the more I'm looking into this, the more I'm convinced that in fact, the definite article is very rarely used in the page names. We have pages called "Middle East" and "British Isles". But naturally, the definite article is of course still used within the text, where we can read about *the* Middle East and *the* British Isles.
Could anyone clarify to me why this practice has become common? And could you give me any reasons as to why somebody would want the definite article to be included in the page name/title? The person suggesting it, claims that this is the correct and "true" name of the location. But to me this seems a wrong assumption and a wrong reason to include "the" in the titles/page names. I can still accept a few exceptions to this practice, but I do not understand why they would want to make this into a common practice.

Hello Aili,

In the text it would be incorrect to not use the definite article with these place names. However, in titles some publications will omit the article; it is a question of house style rather than grammatical rules.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sometimes, 'most' (Superlative) is used without 'the'. At places, I have seen people using 'a' with 'most'. Could you please throw light on these two uses?

Hello raj.kumar123,

I think it would be clearer if you provide an example sentence - often these uses are dependent on the particular example, or the context in which it occurs. We'll be happy to explain, of course.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir,
Is the following sentence correct?
"He is a most intelligent student."

Hello raj.kumar123,

Yes, that is a grammatically correct sentence.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot, sir. Could you please throw light on the uses of the following two sentences in different socio-cultural contexts:

1. He is a most intelligent student.
2. He is the most intelligent student.

Do both the sentences convey different meanings?

Hello raj.kumar123,

Sentence 1 tells us that the student is very intelligent - one of a number of exceptionally intelligent students. Sentence 2 tells us that he is the single most intelligent student of all - no-one is more intelligent.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I have a question-

"The paper attempts to reveal that possibility of multiple perspectives problematizes access to absolute truth."

Is it a correct sentence? Does it require 'the' before 'possibility' and 'access'?

Hello raj.kumar123,

I have already answered this question on another page. Please do not post questions multiple times; it clutters the site, making it less useful for other users, and does not speed the process of replying.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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