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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

Hi.
I have a question that I couldn't find the answer to it yet.
In above text is mentioned that If we use the article 'the' with a single form of a noun it refers to the whole group. but why we still use the singular verbs such as 'is'. I mean why don't we say 'The wolf are ....' instead of 'the wolf is ...'.
however we know it refer to the group of wolves and if still it is correct why can't we say 'The police is coming'.

Thanks in advance

Hello Tbm

These are just the way definite articles are used in English. When we say 'the wolf is a pack animal', it's as if we're thinking of the species rather than individual animals. This way of speaking of an animal is fairly infrequent -- if you look at the Wikipedia entry for 'Wolf', for example, you can see how it begins with this singular use but then changes to the plural in the third sentence.

As for 'the police are', this is just the way people have come to speak. The police can certainly be seen as a single entity, but this is not reflected in the way we typically speak.

Hope this helps.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Abhishek Singh

When you are talking about the seasons in general, both 'the winter' and 'winter' are correct and there is no difference in meaning. The same as is true of 'the summer' and 'summer'.

Sentence B1 is not correct. In general, 'the' is not used before the name of a month. It's not impossible to say 'the September', but it's a bit unusual. For example, if you are speaking about all the months of September that you've lived through, you could refer to one of them using 'the': 'The September I began school was a very difficult time'. But in general, it's not correct to say 'the' before a month.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Abhishek Singh

'on the metro' and 'by metro' are correct; 'by car' is correct but 'on the car' is not -- this would mean that you are sitting on top of the car, which I don't think you mean here.

The normal rules for articles don't always apply in prepositional phrases that are used quite commonly (such as these). It's best to just learn them as chunks of language.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Abhishek Singh

In many cases, it's very difficult to explain how articles are used in a particular sentence without knowing the context and the speaker's intentions. In this case, my guess is that the speaker of the sentence is not considering grass as something universally known. I expect (I say 'expect' because I don't really know) that they're assuming the listener knows about the place they are watching the stars.

'the stars' is what native speakers say in a sentence like this. Here, I suppose the dictionary gave this as an example of something universally known. Another way to think about it is that they are talking about a particular group of stars -- the stars that are visible in the night sky at that time of year.

I hope this helps you. I'd recommend you have patience with articles. Although they are basic words and used in almost every sentence, understanding exactly how they are used is something that can take quite some time.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Jeffery

'In spite of being a good actress, she has never received the Academy Award' is the form that I would recommend using here in general. Your friend's version is also correct, but is probably more appropriate in some specific context.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, I am currently learning collective nouns and I would like to know if these sentences are grammatically correct.

Should it be

1. A group of students is here OR A group of students are here?

If the subject is 'group' should the verb be 'is'? It sounds very strange when I read it, but am I correct?

thanks

Hi muratt,

In modern English both are acceptable.

 

When we use collective nouns, such as a group of, the verb can be either singular (when we are thinking of the group as a whole) or plural (if we are focusing on the group as a collection of individuals).

 

The rule is different when we use quantifiers. Here, the verb agrees with the noun which follows. For example:

A great number of people are waiting. [people = plural so a plural verb form is used]

A lot of time has been wasted. [time = singular so a plural verb form is used]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

thank you.

Hello All, could you please help me to clarify such cases for me.
The susceptibility of (?) human brain to (?) manipulation with the implementation of (?) proper techniques leads to (?) easy penetration of dangerous ideas into our minds.
1) Could you please tell me if my placement of articles is correct?
2)What about (?) signs added by me? Are there any cases in which I have to add "the" article?
3) How do we use "the" article in such tricky sentences?
Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks in advance :)

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