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,
Could you help me with this sentence:
Are there any pictures on the walls of your office? - Yes, there's one - ... Picasso.

My American friend told me that it sounds right for him to say "a Picasso" or use it without any article. But the grammar rule states that we use "the" with works of art. So which one is correct?
Thanks.

Hello katichka2003,

 

We say 'the Mona Lisa' and not 'a Mona Lisa' because there is only one authentic Mona Lisa painting. When you speak about a Picasso painting, you're not mentioning a specific one (there are many), so it's possible to use 'a'.

I would say 'a Picasso' and not just 'Picasso', but perhaps other native speakers would agree with your friend. 'the Picasso' would be correct if we'd already been talking about a specific Picasso painting and that was the one that you have on the wall.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
I have a question about the following sentence from a books :
' We can not use all the water on earth because seawater is salty. '
Why has article 'the' not been used before the
word 'earth' in the above sentence?

Hello hdc151,

'earth' is a sort of name here, and 'the' is not used before most place names. We'd say the same if we were speaking about another planet (e.g. Mars) or a country (e.g. India).

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi! I really need help with: How should I say:
1) I go to work by the underground? - is it possible to say by underground?
2) I get to work by the subway or by subway?
3) on the subway/on the underground?
Thank you!

Hello Ellenna,

We usually say 'on the Tube' or 'on the Underground'. You can say 'go by Tube' as well but this is less common, I would say.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Can you help me with the word combination "rush hour". Should it be used with or without "the". For example: There are usually big traffic jams in rush hour in our city. - is this correct?

Hello Ellenna,

'rush hour' can be used with or without an article. Your sentence is correct without it. If you do an internet search for "rush hour" (include the inverted commas in your search), you'll see lots of different examples of how 'rush hour' is used on the internet. It might also be worth checking a few dictionaries to look at their example sentences.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you a lot! I appreciate it!

Hello, Peter.
" People often speak in a simple way, the main idea of communication is to get the message across ".
What is the reason we have to use 'the' in front of the word 'message' though we haven't yet mentioned 'message'?
Could you please explain?
Thank you in advance.

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