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 everyone. I need your help. Sometimes I tend to avoid the article while writing poetries and songs in some lines, for example: "I hear, underneath I am the root of your tears, where silt attracts the drops you spill." Does that make sense? I'm not sure if I shoud use an article before the word SILT, like "where [the] silt attracts the drops you spill"

Thanks!
Vinicius

Hello vinecmusic,

Wow, that's great that you write poetry and lyrics in English!

Here you could either use 'the' or leave it out. If you use 'the', it indicates that you've already mentioned the silt at some point before.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Great answer!! Thank you very much, Kirk! Really helpful :)

All the best for you.
Vinicius

As I know, the word government is usually used with "the", but if I talk about governments of different countries generally, for example, can I ask: What do you think a government should care about the most?
Thank you in advance.

Hello Ellenna,

'Government' functions just as any other word does. If we know which government we are talking about then we use 'the'. If we are speaking in general terms then we use 'a' (for singular) or no article (for plural). Thus it is perfectly fine to say 'a government' in your example.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello.
Could you please help me - which should I use: "It had impact on me" or "an impact on me"? The Cambridge Dictionary says that "impact" may be both countable and uncountable, so is there any difference in use?
Thank you veru much!

Hello Ellenna,

In this phrase we use an article so we would say 'it had an impact'. We often use an adjective too: 'a big impact', for example.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I apoligize for the delay in response. I was not available for a while and thank you for the custom.it was helpful and also corrected a wrong preception.

Also, I check words like "Upgradation" Energization", they are refered as words used by Indians. How far are they now part of english grammar? Is it OK to consider a proper english word?

Hello zeeshan-hussain,

It's no problem at all that it took you some time to respond. Could you please, however, explain what your last comment was about? I can't find whatever you're referring to, so I don't really understand what the issue was.

As for the words you mention, I found 'upgradation' in the Cambridge Dictionary, where it's marked as Indian English, but not 'energization'. Although I have no problem understanding 'upgradation', not being a speaker of Indian English myself, I would probably use a phrase with the verb 'upgrade' instead of a noun like 'upgradation'. But if you are in communication with Indians, I'd follow their lead, i.e. use words like they use them.

Without seeing 'energization' in context, I'm not sure what it means, so I'm afraid I can't say anything more about that.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Why is 'the' not used with Niagara Falls if it's a geographical feature. Eg. "Canada has a lot of sights to see, such as Niagara Falls and the Canadian Rockies." Thank you!

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