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!Could you explain to me what the diffrence between these two sentences.I mean the articles.
The roof of Lisa's house was damaged in a storm.
The roof of Lisa's house was damaged in the storm.
Does it make a strong diffrence?Thank you

Hello chedD1t,

The difference between 'a' and 'the' is explained above and on our indefinite article page. As these explanations say, 'a' signals that you've this storm has been discussed before, whereas 'the' signals that the storm has been discussed. If you have a more specific question, please let us know.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

What is it the correct use of "the" between:

"the building was designed by THE Italian architect Renzo Piano"
or
"The building was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano" (my favourite)

And between:

"the building was designed by THE Italian architectural firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop" (my favourite, yet I don't know why..)
or
"the building was designed by Italian architectural firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop"

Hello riccarbi,

All of those sentences are correct. The difference is where the emphasis is:

'THE Italian architect Renzo Piano' means something like 'the Italian architect whose name is Renzo Piano'

'Italian architect Renzo Piano' means something like 'Renzo Piano, who is an Italian architect'

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

the book Harry Potter or book Harry Potter?

Hello annruzhova,

Really we need to know the context, i.e. at least the sentence this phrase will go in, and perhaps more, to be able to answer this question properly, though in general some kind of article is used before singular count nouns like 'book'. In any case, the word order needs to change: 'the Harry Potter book'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

i think the harry potter book

because you know the book

Hello,
I have just joined the forum and must say the The Learn English team is doing a fabulous job.
I'd like to know when the definite article is omitted before nouns like hospital,school etc.
For example, does a doctor go to hospital or the hospital ?
Looking forward to your reply.
Regards

Dear TheLearnEnglish team,

I'd be grateful if my query related to article usage could be with nouns like hospital, church etc. be answered.

Regards,
Petal

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