You are here

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

Matching_MTU3MDQ

The definite article the 2

GapFillDragAndDrop_MTU3MDU

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

Grouping_MTU3MDc=

The definite article with names 2

 GapFillTyping_MTU3MDg=

The definite article with names 3

GapFillTyping_MTU3MDk=

The definite article with names 4

GapFillTyping_MTU3MTA=

 

Comments

Dear sir. I read live football text coverage on Twitter and the writer said 'a second change of the evening with 15 minutes to play'. My question is why not use 'the' and say 'the second change of the evening with 15 mins to play'.

Hello Gendeng,

'A second change' here has a similar meaning to 'another change'.

It's normal to say 'the first change' but then talk about 'a second change', 'a third change' etc. I can't explain a logical rule for this; it's simply the convention which has grown up through usage over time.

 

I think if we said 'the second change' it would imply that we were waiting for a particular change. In other words, we would know which player was going to be replaced and which player was going to come on. It would imply a known plan. A commentator might say this if, for example, a player is injured and his replacement is warming up, so they know that the change is coming and are just waiting for it to happen.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, we use at LearnEngsh or on LearnEnglish. I can't explain how "at' works and how "on" works

Hello Jembut,

The Cambridge Dictionary has a good general explanation of how to use 'at', 'in' and 'on' to speak about a place. When I talk about the website in general, I use 'on' ('There are lots of useful resources on LearnEnglish'), but I think it's also OK to say 'at'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, teachers. Could you explain which 'bus'/'train' the speaker means? Is there only one bus/train? We'll have to take the bus/train.

Hi Gendeng,

We can use the definite article in several ways. When you say 'the bus' it could mean a particular bus (Look - the bus is coming!) or it could have a general meaning and refer to the means of transportation (I prefer the bus to the train).

The context tells us if the meaning is general or specific here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for “the” explanation!
Thank you for “your”explanation!
Which one is correct?

Hi Smiley1,

Both versions are correct, and commonly used :)

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi everyone. Why is the article 'the' used for the first time with "shops"? There are lots of shops. Why use a definite article?

Shall I pick up the laundry for you? Oh, no, don’t make a special journey.
It’s OK. I'll be going to the shops anyway.

Hi Crokong,

A speaker says the shops when the listener knows which shops the speaker is referring to. In your example, the speaker may mean:

  • the shops that we usually go to
  • the only shops that are in our area
  • the shops that he/she mentioned before.

We can use the with singular or plural nouns.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Pages