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

Hi Kirk and Peter,
I was wondering if ellipsis applies to the usage of definite articles. For example, if I'm showing someone what I've just bought by laying out those items on a table, and I say " I've picked the eggs, (the) chicken, (the) garlic dip, and (the) chips, but that chocolate bar wasn't my choice." Can I omit those "the"s in the parentheses?

Cheers,

Hi JJcat,

Yes, you can certainly omit the definite article in this way if it is in a repeating structure. Your example is perfectly fine without the articles in brackets.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Really appreciate your prompt weekend reply. :)

Hello everyone!I would like to ask you a question.When I say something about all the things referred to by a noun,Can I use 'a' instead of 'the'?For example, "A wolf is not really dangerous."

Hello Thet Aung Moe,

Yes, you can, though this use – explained under point five on our indefinite articles page – is much less common than using 'the' ('The wolf is not really dangerous'), which is less common than using no article and a plural noun (e.g. 'Wolves are not really dangerous').

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Mr kirk!

Until 1997, bribery and corrupt payments were considered a normal part of doing business in the developing world, and many developed countries allowed payoffs for favorbale treatment to be deducted from income as a routine business expense.

In the above sentence the "the" before "developing world" is neccesarry or if I don't write it, does it still remains correct ? ( I am sorry for asking a bit much about this subject, I just want to get it with a hundred percent precision )

Hello M.Kemal,

It would not be correct to leave out the definite article 'the' in this or any other case. Although it may seem strange or even incorrect, the idea behind the grammar here is that there is only one world and therefore there is only one developing world. This is why 'the' is used here. 

Please know that using articles is one of the most difficult aspects of English, as there are many subtleties and exceptions. I don't say this to discourage you – I admire your dedication and wish you the best!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, of course you did not discourage me. Actually when the challenge is bigger, the satisfaction we get, when it is done, is also bigger. So it even motivated me more, your comment. I thank you for clarifying me in each case that I was confused about. I wish you all the best as well.

I kindly would like to ask one more question, the sentence I will provide below is taken from a book,

But there were soon indicators that multinational efforts to prevent the leakage of the technology and the defection of managers, engineers, and workers to indigenous companies were less than perfect.

For example the sentence above, what if it was written as

But there were soon indicators the that multinational efforts to prevent the leakage of the the technology and the defection of managers, engineers, and workers to the indigenous companies were less than perfect.

I put a lot of the to some places in the sentece, now did I make it gramatically a wrong sentence ? Or I made it express something else ?

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