The definite article: 'the'

Learn how to use the definite article the and do some exercises to practise using it.

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


The definite article the 2


The definite article the 3



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 elderly.



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


The definite article with names 2


The definite article with names 3


The definite article with names 4



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Submitted by EnglishZenon on Sat, 13/01/2018 - 10:15

Hello good people! Is my usage of "the" correct in this sentence and why? I think it is but I'm not sure why. It always confuses me when "the" stands before the adjective. "I've encountered a sentence similar to this one in some of the future lessons." Also, is "usage" the correct word/ form of the word to be used in that question and why? Is the first "the" properly used in the previous question and why? Thank you very much! "The" is the thing that confuses me in English the most. I always feel like I'm using it too often, even when I'm not supposed to.

Hello EnglishZenon,

It's hard to say for sure without knowing the full context and what you mean exactly, but yes, 'the' seems correct in that sentence because you seem to be referring to some lessons that are coming in the future. By using 'the' you are showing that it's clear which ones they are. Perhaps they are the next lessons in the book, for example.

Yes, 'usage' is correct and 'the' is also.

Despite being one of the most frequently used words in English, 'the' is one of the most difficult to learn to use properly, partly because it is used in so many different contexts!

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cbenglish on Wed, 10/01/2018 - 06:00

Hello sirs, thank you for you incredible help and patience. The following is the very first sentence in an academic book published by CUP: "the idea of civil society infiltrates all efforts to assess the possibilities and threats revealed by the glacial political shits at the turn of the century." I am interested in knowing what is the justification for the use of the definite article 'the' in front of possibilities and glacial political shifts? how does its meaning change if I do not use the definite article the: "the idea of civil society infiltrates all efforts to assess possibilities and threats revealed by glacial political shits at the turn of the century." Will the second sentence still be grammatically correct? Thank you very much.

Hello cbenglish,

Using 'the' signals that the writer is referring to possibilities and threats that they have already referred to in some way. It would be possible to omit 'the' here; it would slightly change the meaning by implying the full range of possibilities and threats that exist -- not just a specific set that have already been mentioned.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Student2018 on Tue, 02/01/2018 - 15:21

Hello respected team, In the article there is the following example: Look at the boy in the blue shirt over there. So, I am wondering what the difference is between that sentence and "Look at the boy in blue shirt over there." Thanks!!

Hello Student2018,

The sentence is not correct without 'the'.

Articles depend upon context. We use 'the' when both the speaker and the listener can identify specifically which item is being described. Thus:

a blue shirt describes any blue shirt - it does not refer to any blue shirt in particular but rather any shirt which is blue.

the blue shirt describes a particular blue shirt - it refers only to one specific blue shirt and not any others; the speaker and listener need to either see it or have seen it, or have talked about it before.


In your example the speaker and listener can see the boy and his shirt, so it is clear that the speaker is referring to a specific, concrete and particular blue shirt and not to any other.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Mon, 01/01/2018 - 03:02

Hello dear team, I want to thank you for all your help and wish you a good year, thank you.

Hello Hosseinpour,

You're welcome and we wish you a happy new year as well!

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team