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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, what about the body parts?
Definite or indefinite articles for example

Arm, cheek, leg, back

Hello Monse2509,

The use of articles with body parts is no different from the use of articles with any nouns. If you are referring to a unique example then 'the' is used; if you are talking about any example then 'a' is more likely; if you are speaking in general then no article and a plural form is most likely:

You have a big nose. [there are many big noses; yours is one]

You have the biggest nose in the world! [this is a unique nose]

Big noses are beautiful. [talking about big noses in general]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

1.Deer is a timid creature.
2.The Deer is a timid creature.
3.Giraffe is the tallest animal.

Please explain and justify the use of the definite article 'the' in sentence 2 and 3 and whether sentence 1 is correct.

Hello Vijaya,

In 2, 'the' is used in the way explained above:

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.)

In 3, 'the' is used as part of a superlative adjective ('the tallest', 'the best', 'the most expensive', etc.).

I'm afraid that 1 and 3 are not correct -- in standard British English, it's not correct to begin such a sentence with a singular noun and no determiner. You could begin with 'the' (as in 2) or more commonly a plural form is used -- for example, 'Giraffes are the tallest animals.'

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi!
Should we say 'develop management' or 'develop the management'? Meaning as a government strategy to strengthen (the) management capability and leverage performance?

Thanks

Hello Rita Laranjeira,

I'm afraid I'd need to see the full context to be able to say for sure. You're welcome to send us this is you'd like.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Is “the best books” a wrong expression, since “the” suggests that there is only one?

Hello Fiona,

It's quite possible to use 'the' with plural nouns:

These five books are the best ones I've ever read.

I answered the three emails we got yesterday.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, thanks for the lesson. It’s helpful. May I ask why we say ‘the First World War’, instead of ‘First World War’; ‘the second floor’, instead of ‘second floor’? Does that fall into the category of “it’s the only one”?

Hello Fiona,

Yes, that's the correct.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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