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,
I saw phrases like "at the begining", "in the beginning", and probably "from the beginning to the end". All these have "the", but today i came across "You saw the complete action from beginning to end".
Is "the" required or not ? what is the rule behind this ? thanks.

Hello sword_yao,

In general we use the definite article when we use the nouns 'beginning' and 'end' when are talking about a particular example. It is possible to use the indefinite article when speaking more generally: we need to make a good beginning if we are to succeedit will be an end that people will remember for ever.

The phrase from beginning to end is really not referring to a particular beginning or end, but rather to the concepts of beginning and ending. You could add articles or possessive adjectives here: from the beginning (of the action) to the end (of the action) / from its beginning to its end but this would change the meaning, making it about a particular beginning and ending of a particular thing. The phrase from start to finish works in a similar way.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

thanks Peter. Now i know "from beginning to end" is possible, and so is "from the beginning to the end".

Hello hope you can clarify this

let’s imagine that we run a chain of shops. Let’s call them best food STORES

we have four best foods in different locations in London Suddenly one of the best foods in our city was bombarded and News says

a best food store on downing street 10 was bombarded. ( for a reader it can mean that there might be more or he can assume one store was bombarded.

This is a similar example to those I have read in the article

there might be a few stores in city in different or we can do appositive

a best food store in London, on downing street 10, was bombarded here if we skip comma it will mean that there are other shops in London and the street is unimportant

Another problem that I have encountered and most of my teacher said the same. imagine that we speak about the restaurant. Everyone in a review says The tables ( which means the tables in the restaurant. The lights meaning the lights of the restaurant. how about

“tables that are in the corner are used for company meetings (restrictiveness tells us that there are other tables which are not used for meetings

another example taken from a professional article

At university research was conducted. The 60 participants of the research received different medications (here the author in the next sentence omits te article) and says something like this

Participants who received insulin performed better results ( this is restrictive which means there were other participants who received different methods of treatmenr) My question is that sometimes we use “the” from the beginning and this is also in articles

‘The participants who received…. I mhave seen both version. I assume that this sentence is when for example speakers want clarification in the first one it is like a piece f news the author assumes that we do not know the participants. He xcould have written

4 participants who received insulin performed better results
6 participants who received morphine …

when can we omit the article “the” and the sentence is still restrictrive

“the tables that are in the corner are used for meetings ( theer are others which are not used for meetings
“the tables, which are in the corner, are used for meetings< ( all tables are in the corner and are used for meetings

the last example I have seen in both versions

a description of a room

the room is amazing, The wallpaper presents flowers. Wall paper that is on one of the walls peels off it can mean that other wall paper does not peel off

the room is amazing, The wallpaper presents flowers. the wallpaper that is on one of the walls peels off it can mean that other wall paper does not peel off

the room is amazing, The wallpaper presents flowers. the wallpaper, which is on all walls, peels off it can mean that other wall paper does not peel off

In other words when can we omit “the” and have still restrictiveness. All books shows the and articles shows both sides. I have read somewhere that is is like a piece of news on tv, etc…

can you help me

Hello can someone help me to solve his issue

I have read Hawkins definitness and indefinitness and there s a passage

= Imagine that a married couple are reflecting, in the twilight of their days, on a scaring experience which they once had when their car broke down on a level crossing just as the red light began to flash.

One of them might say :

Oh yes, I remember. There we were, completely helpless, when a nice friendly policeman came rushing to the scene and instructed the signalman to stop the oncoming train.

Hawkins The optionality of the can be accounted for in terms of the time lapse which separates the event, when the policeman would have been talked about, from the actual reminiscence. If the speaker assumes that the referent is still sufficiently fresh in the hearer’s memory to be a member of the previous discourse set, then the will be possible. But if he thinks that the hearer may have forgotten about the policeman, or alternatively if he wishes to formally reintroduce this object to the hearer by consciously ignoring previous discourse,which took place so long ago anyway, then an indefinite article may again be used.

Does it mean that if someone thing took place so long ago and I assume that the listener does not remember I still can use the indefinite article

I have found another problem

I have read a book and there was a scene between two people. one said

kill the fly it is bothering me and the other one killed it, after sometime in a new dialogue there was a scene when one of the speaker recalls and said

I remember how you killed a fly that night in the restaurant can it be how you killed that fly?

the question is how natives see this situation I can still say u took a knife from the table if I assume that the listener does not remember ?

Hello englishlearner81,

I wouldn't say that the use of 'the (policeman)' or 'a (policeman)' is contingent upon the time which has elapsed since the event. Both could be used as well when describing the event moments after it as when describing it many years later. The question is rather how the policeman is seen.

If the speaker views him as being any policeman - in other words, as simply a representative of the police force - then 'a' is likely.

If the policeman is seen as a particular individual for some reason then 'the' is likely. For example, if the speaker sees the individual characteristics (bravery, strength, swimming ability) of the policeman as key then 'the' is likely. Similarly, if the speaker spent time talking to the policeman then 'the' might be more likely. The key is the individualisation of the policeman.

 

In your second example I would say that 'the (fly)' is used initially because it is a particular fly that is annoying and must be killed. In the second sentence 'a (fly)' is used because it is no longer important that a particular fly was killed but rather that the person was capable of killing. In other words in the second sentence it does not matter which fly was killed, it merely matters that the person was able to do it. It is not related to the length of time that has elapsed here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

so we can assume that if something is less important can be ignored and the can be replaced this is more or less I understood since there was nothing specfic about the flyAnyway thanks for the response if I come up with some new questions I will post here

Sir,

I used the following sentence while forwarding an application to the higher office for the first time.

" The application for revival received from Mr. Tony is forwarded herewith for further action at your end."

Is the use of definite article before ' application' is justified? Or should I use indefinite article as it is the first time that I am sending this application?

Kindly answer. If a noun is post-modified by a participle phrase [ eg. received from Mr . Tony] should it be preceded by the definite article always?. Kindly explain

Hello p t balagopal,

The definite article is used when the item in question is specific and identified for both the speaker and listener. If you received only one application from Mr. Tony then you would say 'The application'. If you received multiple applications from Mr. Tony (an unlikely but possible situation) then 'An application' (meaning one of many) would be used.

The same logic holds for participle phrases. If the participle phrase identifies a concrete single example then 'the' is appropriate. If it merely identifies one of many then 'a' is used. For example:

The cat living on my street is in my house. [there is only one cat living on my street]

A cat living on my street is in my house. [there are many cats living on my street]

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

what happens if the listener does not know anything about the cat let's assume that there are two streets next to my house and I don't know if there are any other cats but I assume that there are other

a cat that lives on my street (I might say that is I assume that he does not know becaause he hasn't seen my street and my house? but I have read an article recently and one author said tah a can mean one or one of many but it can be neutral in relation to uniquness is it true

I will ask another comment above

Thanks in advance

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