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

Hello dear Team,
I have some questions about the definite article. Please tell me why the definite article has not been used with ( Reading Difficulty) in the following sentence.
1. A Survey of the Causes of Reading Difficulty of the Chinese EFL Learners
Why definite article is not used with snow in the following sentence
2. The tops of the mountains were still covered in snow
but in this sentence, the definite article is used with snow
Though bundling up in cold weather will make you more comfortable when playing in the snow

Hello littleboylearner,

In 1, presumably 'reading difficulty' has not yet been mentioned - this looks like the title of an article. 2 looks like a similar case to me; probably the snow that is on the tops of the mountains hasn't been mentioned, or they aren't speaking about that specific snow so much as about the mountain tops. In the last sentence, 'the' seems to be used to speak about 'the snow' in general. It's similar to the sentence 'The heart pumps blood ...' above.

By the way, for questions like these, we generally ask our users to explain what they think the answers are. This is because it's good for you to explain how you see things, and it also helps us write a better answer. So next time you have a question like this, please tell us how you see the sentences in question.

Thanks.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello dear Kirk,
Thank you. I thought that reading difficulty had been specified by (of) because it is (reading difficulty of the Chinese) that we talk about, not other nations.
The second sentence, I thought (the tops of the mountains) was a modified structure, so in my opinion, snow belonged to a context which was specific.
I have two more questions:
1. I would like to be considered for the position of English language teacher in your center.
I think that it should be (the English languahe teacher), because teacher is countable and I am talking about a specific center, which is shown by (in your).

2. Acquisition of English articles has been one of the most troublesome learning area
I think it should be (the English articles), because anybody who speaks or learns English knows that there are three articles in English.
Thank you,

Hello littleboylearner,

OK, thanks for your explanations. In 1, the thing that is specific is the position, which is why it says 'the position of ...'. What you say about using 'the' before 'English language teacher' makes some sense, but 'in your center' is a different phrase. In any case, I can assure you that no article is used after 'the position of'.

In 2, I'd say the article is not used because it's speaking about articles in general. Just like we don't say 'The love is essential to happiness', here 'the' is not used either.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello dear kirk,
Thank you, the help means a lot, I am developing sort of sense regarding definite article usage.
Thank you.

Hello Kirk,

I've asked in the last comment about using articles with these two sentences.
A. When you are in trouble, you can turn to………………….……friend. He may help you.
B. We went to Lina's wedding and we gave her………………….……presents.

I think that the answer of the first one is 'a' because it could be any friend, not a particular one. In the other hand, if we use 'the', then 'the friend' will mean the friend in general i.e. the real friend. However I prefer the first answer.

For the second sentence, the ideal answer for me is 'no article'. As, the hearer/reader doesn't know what the presents are. But, if we use 'the', then 'the presents' may refer to a special kind of presents that could be presented at such occasion. I prefer the first answer.

Sorry for being inconvenient.
Many thanks
The sky view

Hello The sky view,

Your explanations are great - thanks, that's very helpful! I agree with you that 'a' is the best answer for sentence A. 'the' is not likely because if we're referring to a friend that's already been mentioned, we'd probably use 'this' or 'that'. In any case, this sentence sounds like general advice, and 'a' is more appropriate in such a context.

For sentence B, it could be either 'the' (if the presents have already been mentioned) or 'no article' (if the presents have not already been mentioned), as you say.

Good work!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

Could you please help with these sentences?

A. When you are in trouble, you can turn to………………….……friend. He may help you.
B. We went to Lina's wedding and we gave her………………….……presents.

Which is the correct answer: (A. a - B. no article) or ( A. the - B. the)?

Many Thanks.

Hello The sky view,

We generally ask that you tell us what you think the answers are. You'll learn much more if you try and we can also explain things better if we can see how you understand things. So we'll be happy to help you, but please tell us what you think the answers are and why.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. How to decide what article should I use?
5. We use a/an with a singular noun to say something about all things of that kind

and

We also use the definite article:
• to say something about all the things referred to by a noun

I just cannot see clear differences between these two explanations. Please, help me with it.

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