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

Hi!
I'm sorry if someone's asked already, but I've never managed to find this matter anywhere.
Do I need to put the article before the full name of a legal entity (as per the articles of association)?
Example: The plan was to discuss (_/the) Omega JSC's operations?

Thank you in advance,

Sergey

Hi freond,

The answer is that it depends on the nature of the name, I'm afraid. If the name is simply a proper name, such as 'Omega JSC' then no article is used. However, if the name is a name with a descriptive meaning then a definite article is used.

 

Thus we say

HSBC Bank

ExxonMobil

BP / British Petroleum

 

but we say

the Bank of England

The Federal Reserve

The London Stock Exchange

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Understood, no article in my case.
In your second case includes common names: Bank, Reserve, Exchange.
And in my case, there is no common name.
Thank you, Peter.

Hello Sir
Please let me know where one use 'the' and don't
Every Sunday he goes to church to pray.
Yesterday he went to the church to meet the father.
I think the above are correct. But which one is correct 'with 'the or without the' in the following.
Every Friday I go to market to buy fresh vegetables/ Every Friday I go to the market to buy vegetables.
My mother has gone to the bank to deposit money./My mother has gone to bank.to deposit money.
Please let me know.
Regards
Lal

These examples depend on whether the nouns are countable, non-countable, or variable (meaning they can be either one.) In your first two sentences, "church" can be used as a countable noun (for example, when you are referring to an actual, physical church), or as a non-countable noun (for example, the religious services held in a physical church.) You can count physical churches (so it will have a/the before it), but you cannot count the idea of the services that take place there (which would not have a/the before it). This Learners' Dictionary identifies if a noun is countable or not and gives example sentences. For example, http://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/church shows the countable examples in definition 1a and non-countable in 1b.

Your examples are both correct. The first sentence uses church as a reference to something that can happen, and be a part of the experience that happens in a physical church: prayer. It does not refer to a real, physical church, and therefore does not have "the". The second sentence implies going to a physical church building in order to meet "the father" of/at that specific church, and therefore needs "the".

In the next set of sentences, it sounds best to say "...go to the market..." A market is a physical (and countable) thing you will be going to. You will sometimes see or hear the phrase "go to market" but that is generally used as in idiom in business and commerce to indicate you are offering a product up for sale for the first time. ("Next year we will go to market with the next version of the software.")

"Bank" is only a countable noun and therefore needs a/the in front.

There are lots of other cases that can get confusing, but here are some phrases you can look up for more information:

zero article (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-marking_in_English#Zero_article)
countable nouns
uncountable nouns
collective nouns
mass nouns

I hope this post is somewhat comprehendable.

Hi Lal,

Yes, the first two sentences are correct. In the second one, you could also just say 'to church' if he went there for mass, but it's probably more common to say 'to the church' there.

In the second, 'go to the market' is the correct option. 'go to market' is used in some business contexts, but in the context of vegetables, 'the market' is used.

The same is true in the third case: 'to the bank', not 'to bank'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

In the previous article, you described the case when we must `use a/an with a singular noun to say something about all things of that kind`, but in this article, you say `We also use the definite article: to say something about all the things referred to by a noun:`. Which of these is true?

Hello nurlybekovnt,

Both of these statements are true. Please see Peter's response to EnglishZenon for more information about these two forms. If you have any further questions, you are welcome to ask them, but please ask them in the same thread if possible.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello dear Peter,
Thank you for the feedback, duly noted. Thank you.

Hello dear team,
In the following sentence if we place (poorly) after (designed) will the meaning be different, if yes, how? (Many of these buildings were poorly designed and constructed and have since been demolished.) Thank you.

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