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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'm learning nouns that are both countable and uncountable, and I would like to know if the below are correct:

Love is what you need.
I have a love of literature.

Experience is important to gain.
I have an excellent experience in sales.

Time is very important nowadays.
We had a great time whilst at work today.

This country makes investment in education.
My siblings had a good education in London.

Knowledge in English is important at work.
This position requires a knowledge of English.

Hello muratt

Well done -- except for the fourth one, you've used the nouns correctly in those sentences. We don't say 'an experience in sales' but rather something like 'excellent sales experience' (where it is uncountable). An example of 'experience' as a count noun would be something like 'He studied in Istanbul for one year and had a great experience'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Aisha7

When we talk about someone having 'excellent sales experience', this refers to their work experience. A person with excellent sales experience has probably worked in many different sales positions and has been successful in them. When we speak about work experience, 'experience' is uncountable. It's possible that non-native speakers use it as a count noun, but what I describe is just the way native speakers have come to use the word.

I'd need to see what context 'a great sales experience' was used in to be able to explain this phrase. But if, for example, someone is talking about their experience buying something in a shop and they were very satisfied with how this experience went, then in this case 'experience' is a count noun. As before, this is just the way native speakers have come to use the word.

I hope that helps and please don't hesitate to ask again if you have any more questions about this. By the way, you are very welcome to ask questions about other users' questions -- it's no problem at all!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Which one it is --> The Customer or Customer, in case customer is defined in a contract text ("Customer means ...."). After that do you use "The Customer" or just Customer since it is already defined in a contract?

Hello Keimo,

The normal use in legal documents such as contracts is The Customer (The Employee, The Client, The Contractor etc.), and this is true right through the document.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sirs,
'The future belongs to the unmanned flying machines.' Or 'The future belongs to unmanned flying machines'. Why?
Thank you

Hello Kaisoo93,

The use of articles is generally dependent on the context.

In your example, if you are simply making a prediction about the future in general (the most likely option) then no article is needed. The reference is to unmanned flying machines in general, not to a particular group of unmanned flying machines in contrast to another group of unmanned flying machines:

The future belongs to unmanned flying machines.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
I would like to know why we add (the) before (weekend) in the first sentence, while in the second one we didn't add it before (weekdays):
That is at the weekend.
The last admission is at noon on weekdays.

Hi man,

'The weekend' is a particular period of time. The equivalent (Monday to Friday) would be 'during the week', which also uses the definite article.

'Weekdays' is just a plural noun, not the name of a period of time. You could also say 'on Tuesdays' or 'on Fridays', for example, also without an article.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi!

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

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