definite article: the

 

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

Comments

Hello sreekanthskn,

When we are talking about the planet, we always say 'the Earth'. However, 'earth' can also mean 'soil' as in the black substance in which most plants grow. When we are using 'earth' in this context it behaves like any other uncountable noun and follows the usual rules of article use.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Why didn't we use "the" with High Peak? And why did we use "the" with "latest in a series"?

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.

Hello mqpasta,

'High Peak' (note the capital letters) is the name of a mountain and we do not use the definite article with the names of mountains.

We use the definite article with superlative forms like 'best' or 'highest'; 'latest' is an example of a superlative form.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks.

I mixed mountain ranges with mountain name. An example in this regard can help other readers.

Can I say that every phrase that carries 'of' needs 'the'? For e.g. in the light of the novel, in the view of our principal, the possibility of meanings...

But i have seen people using 'in light of....' without 'the' before 'light'. Kindly explain.

Hello raj.kumar,

As you have observed yourself, the rule that you suggest doesn't work in all cases. There are some basic concepts that explain the use of articles in most situations, but not all uses can be explained by rules. Although there are certainly many rules that describe how it works, ultimately, a language is a social phenomenon that is contingent upon the way people use it. It's good for you to seek to understand articles through rules, but some usages have come to be through use.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

I have come across a sentence: "Stories of faraway lands, folk tales, historical fiction, and adventure and discovery, interpreted by a mainly white authorship, were the staple content of these magazines. "

The writer has omitted 'the' before 'stories'. I think the writer is talking about those particular stories which are of faraway lands. Is it an error?

Hi raj.kumar,

No, that is not an error. You can assume that the vast majority of usages you find in authentic sources are not errors. This writer seems to be speaking about all of these different kinds of stories in general, and in English the definite article isn't normally used to speak about things in general.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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