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

GapFillTyping_MTU3MDY

 

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 Muratt,

These sentences are examples of the definite article for general meaning.

All articles can be used for general meaning, but there are subtle differences between them. I wrote quite a long answer on this topic for another user so I'll link to that below. I think it will answer your questions. There are also some further explanations in the following comments:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/comment/129066#comment-129066

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I worked at the gym or I worked in the gym? Which is correct?
Is the same for: I have been working in/at the gym for two years?

Hi Stefan xy

Both 'at' and 'in' can be used here. This Cambridge Dictionary page explains the different ways these two prepositions are used. I think that should answer your question, but please let us know if not.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,
while reading the title "The definite article with names", I was wondering why to use "the" at the beginning of the sentence instead of writing "Definite article with nouns"?

Hello Giada,

The convention is to name articles as follows:

the definite article / the indefinite article / the zero article

 

In each case we are not talking about articles in general, but rather a specific kind of article.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir ,

In which tense is this verb : was deposed.

Best wishes.

Hello Momocompanyman,

The tense here is past simple and it is a passive form (passive voice), so the verb form is past simple passive.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot

If I were to say that my uncle is a policeman, what would I have said:
My uncle is a policeman.
My uncle works as a policeman.
My uncle works in the police.

Hello Ritwika Chatterjee,

All of those are perfectly fine apart from the last one, which I think should say for the police rather than in the police.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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