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 two questions:
1. As a teacher in India, I have had the experience of overseeing the instruction of students. Do I need to put a definite article before (experience) and (instruction)? I think that it is generally speaking about experience and instruction, so I should avoid it.
2. I have the skills necessary to meet learner needs and tailor my teaching to each individual learner. Do I need to use (THE) before skills? I suppose that I am talking about a particular set of skills which are mine.
Thanks for the help. Your explanations have helped me a lot indeed.

Why is it "i heard it on the radio", but "i'm going to watch tv" (without the in front of tv)

Hello JK Salome,

I'm afraid there is no rule for this, or at least no logical explanation. It is simply a reflection of how the language has developed through use - a matter of convention rather than grammatical rules. There are other similar examples with articles which simply must be remembered. For example, we say 'I have a headache' but usually 'I have backache'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Can someone explain me why we cannot use "the" in following sentences. (that the poverty) and (Firstly, the poor people)

It’s logically due to the fact that (the) poverty is a major factor of crime

Firstly, (the) poor people should learn to maintain a balance between their expenses and incomes

Hi gayand,

When we are speaking in general we usually do not use an article. Here the meaning is general.

If you add 'the' to the phrase then you are identifying a particular group of poor people, rather than poor people in general, or talking about a particular kind of poverty, rather than poverty in general.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Peter....it is clear now

Hello dear Peter,
Thank you very much. Thanks a lot.

If anyone could be kind to help me with a situation.

So could you please tell which variant is correct, grammatically:

Check the condition of the exposed wiring

or

Check condition of the exposed wiring.

As could be seen, is about the article before "condition".

Thank you in advance for feedback.

Hello AndreiP,

You should use 'the' in this sentence – the first sentence is correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Thank you very much for feedback. Highly appreciated.

Kind regards.

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