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
Can you explain why a definite article is used in this sentence:

The difference in attitude was very noticeable. (for difference)

but not in this one:

Growth was higher than we expected. (for growth)

Thanks!

Hello embajadores,

In the first sentence we know which difference we are talking about - the difference in attitude. In the second sentence we do not define which growth we are talking about, and so (as growth is an uncountable noun) there is no article. We would use 'the' if we say which growth we have in mind:

The growth in Brazil/in 2014/in the housing sector was higher than we expected.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello teachers,

Please help to advise if we can use " THE " in front of the season or not. For example, Do we say " in THE spring " or " in spring "?

Many Thanks!

Hello Thao,

If you're talking about the seasons in general, 'the' is often used, but you can omit it with no real difference in meaning ('Flowers bloom in the spring' and 'Flowers bloom in spring' are both correct). If you're speaking about a particular season, then you should use 'the' (say 'She climbed Mt. Everest in the summer of 1998' not *'She climbed Mt. Everest in summer of 1998').

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! Do we have to use THE in front of MOST in the sentence:"Who has most friends in the class?"

Hello Predrazinho,

Yes, you do - it is a superlative form.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello teachers. Why does this sentence use "the"?

The first thing we must do when we get to our holiday is go to the supermarket. Why not say "a supermarket"? I think the speaker goes on a trip to a place they have never been to.

- I prefer the city to the country. I believe this sentence doesn't refer to a specific city or country, but the speaker is talking about something in general. It doesn't matter which city or country. Am I right?

Also, do we use "the" with media, press, news? Do these nouns is categoried as a system?

Hello Dwishiren,

'the' can be used to speak about things that are common in our lives. For example, I could say I take the train to work every morning, or in the evening I go to the supermarket, even if sometimes I go to one and other days I go to another. The same is true of the sentence you ask about here - the speaker's not referring to a known supermarket, but rather supermarkets as something common in her life.

For your city vs country question, that's right. And 'the' is often used with 'media', etc. in the same way that it's used with 'supermarket' as explained above.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the reply, Kirk. Does it mean "the restaurant" = all reastaurant, the city or country = all cities or countries, the media = all media? That's what is meant with talking about in general? Can't I use a definite article in those sentences?

Is it possible to use article "The" twice after one another in one sentence like "The the".
If yes, can you explain where and Why.

Thank You !!

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