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The definite article: 'the'

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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 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

Hi,

I've taken the following information from Cambridge Dictionary-

'The' with things that are universally known

We use the with things known to everyone (the sun, the stars, the moon, the earth, the planet) because they are a part of our physical environment or part of the natural world.
Example:
We lay on the grass and watched the stars.

Two questions related to this-
(1) Can we consider grass as something that is universally known?
(2) Would it be 'watched the stars' or 'watched stars'?

Kind Regards,

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

Thank you sir!

In Cambridge Dictionary, in the above example sentence "We lay on the grass and watched the stars." 'the grass' was also highlighted in bold along with 'the stars' which gave an impression that they were considering 'grass' as a universally-known entity too. That's why I was having a little confusion regarding the same.

Hi,
Good evening!

Could you please answer these questions?
(A) Sometimes we use 'the sun' in sentences, while other times 'the Sun' in sentences. Examples:-

(a) According to the Met Office, the red sun is caused by winds pulling up Saharan dust.
(b) The Sun—the heart of our solar system—is a yellow dwarf star, a hot ball of glowing gases. ...

Similarly, sometimes we use 'the moon' and other times 'the Moon'. Is there any rule regarding this?

(B) Using the definite article with Moon/Sun (not moon/sun), when they do not appear at the starting of a sentence, should the letter 't' be in the capital case or the lower case (i.e. the Moon/Sun or The Moon/Sun )?

Examples (taken from a website):-
(a) The moon orbiting Earth is called The Moon.
(b) Are all suns as hot as The Sun?

Kind regards,

Hello ABHISHEK SINGH,

There is no absolute rule for the capitalisation of planets and other celestial bodies. Different style guides take different approaches. You can see some of these here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_talk:Manual_of_Style/Archive_(capitalization)

 

I have always capitalised these items when used as proper nouns with or without an article (The only planet known to harbour life is Earth / The Earth is our home), but not when used to refer or in idiomatic expressions (What on earth is that?) or when used as regular nouns (The Earth has only one moon / We will find countless planets orbiting countless suns as we explore the galaxy).

The definite article is only capitalised if it is the first word in the sentence.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sir

With all respect, i want to ask you questions about using "in spite of".

I found a sentence;

Although she is a good actress, she has never received the Academy Award.

The point is that I do not know how to write

this sentence by using "in spite of".

But, i tried a few sentences;

1 In spite of being a good actress, she has

never received the Academy Award.

Could you please tell whether this is right or

wrong.

If this is wrong answer,could you explain

why it is wrong ,then tell me the correct

answer, please.

One of my friend also tell me that the correct

answer;

In spite of her being a good actress, she has

never received the Academy Award.

I do not know if this sentence is right.

Could u also please explain to me why this sentence is right.

Ps. I really confused to get the correct answer for this question.

I really looking forward to hearing from you soon

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

Thank you sir!

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