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The definite article: 'the'

Level: beginner

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 listener/reader knows exactly what we are referring to:

  • because there is only one:

The Pope is visiting Russia.
The moon is very bright tonight.
Who is the president of France?

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 context:

We live in a small house 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 over there. (= the boy I am pointing at)

  • because we have already mentioned it:

A young man got a nasty shock when he tried to rob a jewellery shop in Richmond. The man used a heavy hammer to smash the windows in the shop.

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.
She is learning the 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.

The definite article the 1

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The definite article the 2

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The definite article the 3

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Level: intermediate

We can also use the definite article with adjectives like rich, poor, elderly and 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.

 

 

Level: beginner

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 Bhutan
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 (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
  • organisations:
the United Nations the Seamen's Union
  • hotels, pubs and restaurants:
the Ritz the Ritz Hotel the King's Head the Déjà Vu

But note that we do not use the definite article if the name of the hotel or restaurant is the name of the owner:

Brown's Brown's Hotel Morel's Morel's Restaurant
  • families:
the Obamas the Jacksons
The definite article with names 1

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The definite article with names 2

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The definite article with names 3

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The definite article with names 4

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Comments

Hello amin.sharifi,

The phrase 'in power' is a fixed expression meaning 'who holds power'. Power here is conceptual and abstract - power in general terms.

In the second sentence you are describing not power in general but a specific kind of power: the power of television. Thus, the definite article is used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear teacher,

I have come across the following sentence in an article: "All subsequent references to this source will be given in the text with the writer's last name and page number only." Do we require 'the' before 'page number'? Is this sentence grammatically acceptable?

Thanks.

Raj

Hello Raj,

You could use the before page number (meaning the page number of the book), but it is not essential as you could consider page number to be preceded by the possessive writer's, and we do not use articles and possessive forms together.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter,

Thanks for your response. When 'page' is used without 'the', does it not refer to all pages in general? Does the sentence in question mean that all the following references from this particular book will include the writer's last name and page number (in a general sense, whichsoever page it may be!)?

I think, when 'page number' is considered to be 'preceded by the possessive writer's', it won't make any sense. Could you please shed light on it also, as I am not sure about it?

Thanks.

Raj

Hello Raj,

I think the context makes it clear that the page number is related to a particular piece of writing by a particular writer. There is no possibility of misunderstanding here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter M,

I am really sorry. I couldn't understand it. Could you please elaborate on it?

Thank You.

Raj

Dear teacher,

The definite article 'the' is not used with 'Indians' in a general sense. If I want to refer to the Indians who lived before the Colonial rule (when India included Pakistan and Bangladesh also), is it grammatically acceptable to use 'the Indians' in a general sense?

Thanks.

Raj

Hello Raj

It really depends on the context, so I'm afraid I can't really say anything that would apply for all situations. But in general, there is no difference. It might be useful to have a look at an article about India (for example, Partition of India) to see how articles are used there. On that page, the first three instances of 'Indians' are not preceded by 'the'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear teacher,

We drop 'the' after 'both'. For example, both books are interesting. But, I don't know how to use 'both' with 'the'+ 'adjective'= 'noun' (the rich= rich people). Which of the following is correct:

1. Both the rich and the poor should do hard work.
2. Both the rich and poor should do hard work.
3. Both rich and poor should do hard work.

Here, 'the rich' refers to 'rich people' and 'the poor' refers to 'poor people'.
Shall we drop/retain 'the'?
Thanks.

Hello Raj

You can drop 'the' after 'both', but it is not required. 'Both books' and 'Both the books' and 'Both of the books' are all correct.

Sentences 1 and 2 are fine, though 1 is better. Sentence 3 is a bit unusual, but could be correct in a specific context.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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