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,
We use "who" and "whom" for people, and "which" for things. We use "whose" as the possessive form of "who".
In this sentence:
We use the definite article with countries "whose" names include words like kingdom, states or republic.
Why did you used "whose", not "which"? Beacuse, "counteries" is not people. Please, explain this matter.

Hello Elmar H.,

It's true that 'whose' normally refers to people, but it is also used to refer to animals or even things sometimes.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, my friends says that it's also correct to say "I'm going to a cinema", then what's the difference with "I'm going to the cinema"?

Hello Crokong,

It really depends on what the speaker means. If you're speaking of a cinema that's already been mentioned or is clear from the context in some way, or if there is only one cinema in town, then 'the' would be the correct form. Otherwise, 'a' is possible.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Kirk, If there are two cinemas in my town, what should I use a cinema or the cinema? For example, my friend asks me, where are you going? I'm going to a cinema. Or I'm going to the cinema.

Hello Crokong,

I'd say 'I'm going to the cinema'. We also often use 'the' for common places (such as the cinema, the supermarket, the chemist's) especially when we're thinking more about what we do in that place rather than the actual place itself.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Kirk. Yes, my grammar book also says that you have to use "the" with such places (the theatre, the pub). Then in what situation should I use the indefinite article with cinema, theatre, etc? Because it's correct to say "a cinema", "a theatre". Could you tell me?

Hello Crokong,

'Go to the theatre' means to watch a play. 'Go to a theatre' means to visit a building which is a theatre. Thus I might say the following:

'Let's go to the theatre. I haven't seen a play in ages.'

'I was in Venice last year and we visited a beautiful theatre. I think it was over 300 years old.'

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Peter M. That's clear. Anyway, in my town there are three supermarkets. If my friend asks me, where are you off to? Would I say "I'm "going to a supermarket" sir? But "the supermarket" would mean there is only one supermarket. Since there are three, I would say "a supermarket", right?

Hello Crokong,

No, you would say 'the supermarket' is your intention was to do some shopping; 'got to the supermarket' is used as a synonym for 'go shopping (at the supermarket)'. If you simply wish to visit the building for some reason then you might say 'a supermarket'.

'...to the supermarket' = going shopping

'...to the doctor's' = you are sick

'...to the library' = borrowing or reading books

 

Of course, if there is only one supermarket in the town and both you and your friend know this then you would say 'the supermarket' anyway. If there were several supermarkets and you are, for some reason, interested in being at one but do not care which then you might say 'a supermarket'. 

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish

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