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

I know that if there is a limited choice of something, we need to use "which" in the sentence. So, I have to say: "Which do you prefer to drink when you are thirsty: water or juice?" Could you tell me if it's correct and if I can say: "What do you prefer to drink: water or juice?" Thank you!

Hello Ellenna,

Yes, you can say the sentence with either 'what' or 'which'. You are correct in your description of the difference but it is not a hard and fixed rule and there is a lot of flexibility here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, I have some doubts wether I should say " I work at the Commercial Court or in the ... or without "the".
I hope you can help me with this.
Thanks in advance.
Best regards
Maja

Hello Majamasic,

Both 'at' and 'in' are grammatically possible. I would say that 'at' is more common here.

We would use 'the' in this sentence. Courts in general have a definite article: the High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court etc.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir,

I am unable to consture the best use of "have had" in a sentence. For instance " I never have had a pillow fight"

When do we use this combination?
What tense is best suitable?

Thanks

Hello zeeshan-hussain,

Perhaps there is some other form I'm not thinking of, but in general 'have had' is the present perfect tense of the verb 'have'. Your sentence is a good example of one use of this tense -- to speak about life experiences. Though please note that adverbs of frequency like 'never' go between the auxiliary verb ('have') and the past participle ('had'): 'I have never had'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

I know that in American English it's very common to say "wanna". As I understand, this is the contraction of "want to" or "want a". So, this means that I can't ask :"What else do you wanna?" and I can only say: "What else do you want?" Could you please tell me if I understand this correctly? Thank you.

Hello Ellenna,

Yes, that's correct. It would be strange to say 'What else do you wanna?' because 'wanna' normally has an object or is used at the end of only yes/no questions with a very clear context. For example, if you've been talking about whether to go to the cinema (or 'the movies', as they say in America) or not, you could say 'Do you wanna?' in that very specific context, though even then it would probably be more common to say 'Do you wanna go?'. Otherwise, you would need to use an infinitive or noun after it, and always in a wh-question like 'What else do you want?'

By the way, even if we say 'wanna', we usually write 'want to'. Normally you'd only see 'wanna' in writing in novels or comic books in very informal conversations, or perhaps in advertisements. Otherwise I'd advise you to write 'want to'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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