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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


The definite article the 2


The definite article the 3



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


The definite article with names 2


The definite article with names 3


The definite article with names 4




In a recent research on the Internet about ''Parts of speech'' I found out that articles (the, a, an) are considered adjectives. Is it right or wrong? In what case does this happen? Is there any difference between British English and American English?
Thank you in advance.

Hello academie_19

I'm not familiar with that idea; in most grammars, they are considered determiners. I would encourage you to check several grammars to get different perspectives on this idea.

With a few exceptions in a small number of specific phrases, the use of articles in British and American English is exactly the same.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Is the definite article is required before 'intake ' in the following sentence?

' In our childhood we were not worried about intake of sugar '

Is there any law regarding this?

I would like to know whether the use of the definite article before the of-phrase in the following sentence is correct .

" When we were children, we were not worried about [ the] intake of sugar" "

Does the of-phrase make the noun [ intake ] specific or Can I drop the definite article ? Is there any rule regarding this ?

Hello p t balagopal

I would suggest 'about sugar intake' here, to be honest. If you say 'intake of sugar', though, I would say 'our', or perhaps 'the', here.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Teacher,

"The book resonates with the historical past and the contemporary politics." or "The book resonates with the historical past and contemporary politics."

Do we require 'the' before 'contemporary politics'? Or we may write: "The book resonates with the historical past and the author's contemporary politics."



Hello raj.kumar123,

I expect that no article is required before 'contemporary politics', but it is impossible to be sure, and nor can we be sure if an article is required before 'historical past'.

The sentence is not in any kind of context, so we do not know what has been said before and what will follow. Articles are reference devices which can refer to things in the sentence or outside it (this is why, presumable, you have a definite article before 'book'). Here, we do not know if there is any reference outside of the sentence, and so cannot comment with any confidence.



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter M,

Thanks for your response. Could you please let me know how the insertion of article 'the' before ‘contemporary politics’ change the meaning? In other words, how do the following two sentences convey different meanings:
a. "The book resonates with the historical past and the contemporary politics."
b. "The book resonates with the historical past and contemporary politics."



In the following sentence- "there is no doubt in the innocent minds of the villagers when the construction of religious idea of knowledge and ignorance is based on the sacred text", do we need the article 'the' before 'religious idea'? If yes, why? Thanks.

Hello raj.kumar123

Yes, I would use it there.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team