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 hearer/reader knows exactly what we are referring to.

• because there is only one:

The Pope is visiting Russia.
The moon is very bright tonight.
The Shah of Iran was deposed in 1979.

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 place or in those surroundings:


We live in a small village 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 in the blue shirt over there.  = (the boy I am pointing at)


• because we have already mentioned it:

A woman who fell 10 metres from High Peak was lifted to safety by a helicopter. The woman fell while climbing.
The rescue is the latest in a series of incidents on High Peak. In January last year two men walking on the peak were killed in a fall. 

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.(= Joe can play any piano)
She is learning the guitar.(= She is learning to play any 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.

• With adjectives like rich, poor, elderly, 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.

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 Nepal; 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; the Atlantic Ocean; the Amazon; the Panama Canal.


The Times; The Washington Post

• well known buildings or works of art:

the Empire State Building; the Taj Mahal; the Mona Lisa; the Sunflowers


the United Nations; the Seamen’s Union

hotels, pubs and restaurants*:

the Ritz; the Ritz Hotel; the King’s Head; the Déjà Vu

*Note: We do not use the definite article if the name of the hotel or restaurant is the name of the owner, e.g.,Brown’s; Brown’s Hotel; Morel’s; Morel’s Restaurant, etc.


the Obamas; the Jacksons



We use definite article to say something about all the things. We also use a/an with a singular noun to say something about all things.I don't understand the difference clearly. I'm just be able to use my sense to determine which one is suitable.

 This is too hard can anyone else work this out?

I have same doubt as khoa's. Is 'a' and 'the' interchangeable when we say something about all the things of that kind?

Article rules are very complex, so I don't blame you for having problems with them. If we are talking in general, we can say 'The dolphin is an intelligent animal' or we can say 'A dolphin is an intelligent animal' or we can say 'Dolphins are intelligent animals'. Confusing! For me, the difference is that the focus in the first is on an abstract example, on the second the focus is on an example and in the third the focus is on all dolphins.
I hope that helps a bit.
The LearnEnglish Team

there are two articles: definite article and indefinite article.
the first one is a/an and it´s for peoples jobs and talk about indefinite things.
the second one (the) it´s to talk about all these things that are above these comments, am i right?

Hello Franck,
The definite article is 'the' and the indefinite article is 'a/an'.
One description is that we use the definite article to talk about things that the speaker and listener both know about. We use the indefinite article when the speaker is introducing new information.
However, there are many ways to look at articles and I suggest you read this page carefully, along with the page on the indefinite article.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

i get a question about this.
why i can say (cats like  milk) and don´t using the definete article and i can say too(The wolf is not really a dangerous animal)  using the definite article if it supposed i don´t use the definite article in general things?
please answer my question i´m confused.

Hello Franck,
Talking about things in general is an area where articles are very confusing. See my comment to tbt below. I suggest if you are trying to learn about articles that you leave this area until last and focus on the clearer rules first.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

ok, thanks for aswer. :)

Hello! Excuse me, I have several questions.
1. Why the Italian language is "the" Italian language, and why Italian food is just 'Italian food'?(without 'the') 
2. So far as I know, If something is referred to generically the zero article is used, and If specifically, the definite article used. In my English text book, however, there are some sentence in which I don't understand the use of articles. 
a 'Korean cuisine has been embraced by diners across the world.'
b 'Visitors to Korea cite the cuisine as one of the top three attractions...'
c 'About half of Americans surveyed picked "Korean food" as the first thing that comes to mind when....".
Since all of the three thickened nouns are referred to specifically, I think that definite articles should be attatched infront of them.
In addition, I think that 'half of Americans' is gramatically wrong, because, as the word 'half' is a determiner or predeterminer, we can say 'half fruits' or 'half (of) the fruits' but cannot say 'half of fruits'.  
Please teach me the reason why zero articles are used and why my views are wrong.