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

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=

 

Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Mon, 12/02/2018 - 04:55

Permalink
Dear Sir, Hello. Please read the following sentence: "If you set two or more question papers with the same/similar questions, kindly ensure that these papers are scheduled to be held in the same time slot." When we use 'Same' in general sense, are we required to use 'the' before it? Thanks.

Hello raj.kumar,

I'm not sure what you mean by 'general sense' here. 'Same is used very rarely without a determiner. This is almost always 'the' but could also be 'this', 'that', 'these' and 'those'. There is also a fixed expression with 'same' alone ('same difference') used in informal speech.

In your example 'the' is necessary in both positions. However, if 'similar' is used then no article is required as the noun is plural.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by klmota on Fri, 09/02/2018 - 14:27

Permalink
Hello! I have a question on the use of the article "the". I want to post some pictures on my Instagram, but I'm not sure which of the captions below would be correct: Artworks by Brazilian artist Ana Horta. Artworks by the Brazilian artist Ana Horta. Are both okay? Is there any difference in meaning between the first option and the second? Thank you in advance! Karla.

Hello kimota,

Both forms are fine. In the first sentence (without 'the') the words 'Brazilian artist' functions effectively as a title, while in the second sentence it is simply a descriptive adjectival phrase.

I think in terms of usage, the first one would be more common on your own website, while the second would be more likely to be used in a magazine article about you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by RamMin on Thu, 01/02/2018 - 22:22

Permalink
I just joined this great web site and it is impressive how efficient this source is, besides The LearnEnglish Team seems to be working in a very professional and timely manner. So gratified!

Submitted by zhuyaoyun on Thu, 01/02/2018 - 09:06

Permalink
Hello dear team, Please help me with the following question: In translating a book, at the end of one chapter, when marking the source of the text, should I put in this way: 1. Adapted from "Biography of Lou Hu" in History of the Former Han [Note: The Book Name of "History of the Former Han "Italicized] Q1: Should I use the quotation marks "" or just italicize the chapter name and book name? or in this way: Adapted from the Biography of Lou Hu in History of the Former Han [Note: The Book Names of " Biography of Lou Hu " & "History of the Former Han " both Italicized] Q2: Should I add "the" before Biography? or should I also add "the" before "History" like this: Adapted from the Biography of Lou Hu in the History of the Former Han Looking forward to your reply. Thank you very much, Yaoyun

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Thu, 01/02/2018 - 07:42

Permalink
Hello dear team, Two old friends having this conversation in front of a shop: "Say, some of the guys are getting together later down at Duke's for a bear. Why don't you come along?" What does 'down' mean? Does it refer to a lower position, direction? By the way, during this part of conversation, they didn't use any sort of body gesture. Thank you.

Hello Hosseinpour,

We use 'down' in this way in informal speech. It does not carry any directional sense but is simply a less formal way to describe some locations:

The station is (down) at the end of the road.

Let's meet (down) at the bar.

He went (down) to the university last week to discuss this.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by capricorn89 on Fri, 26/01/2018 - 17:17

Permalink
I have a question : Do we use "the" before titles like prime minister? The prime minister or prime minister ???

Hello capricorn89,

When we are talking about the position we use 'the':

The Prime Minister left Downing Street at 8.00 this morning.

I sent a letter to the Prime Minister a week ago.

 

When we use titles before a name we do not use an article:

Prime Minister May left Downing Street at 8.00 this morning.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Dear Peter for the answer and thanks to the British Council for such a wonderful website

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Mon, 22/01/2018 - 08:24

Permalink
Hello dear Peter, Thank you for the help. Thank you.

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Sun, 21/01/2018 - 08:31

Permalink
Hello dear team, In the following sentences, how does 'though' help the meaning get across. I have read the rules, but still can't feel the meaning. This sentence is from 'Longman dictionary':(George did say one nice thing, though.) I watched a video in which, the host wanted to give the guest, a celebrity, a mouth organ to play, then the host said ( I have used it, though) and he didn't give it to the guest. How does using 'though' help the other side understand the meaning, if we use the same sentence without 'though', how will be the meaning? Thank you.

Hello Hosseinpour,

This use of 'though' is quite informal. It has a similar meaning to 'however' and shows that the statement contrasts with another statement made previously or with the listener's expectations. You need to look at the sentence in context to understand the meaning of 'though' and to look at what was said before each sentence. For example, you might see something like this:

I thought everyone was very rude last night.

George did say one nice thing, though.

As an aside, the use of 'did say' rather than just 'said' adds emphasis and also shows that the sentence contrasts with something else that was said.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Fri, 19/01/2018 - 08:02

Permalink
Hello dear team, When are we supposed to use (in the list/ on the list)? Dictionaries have not given the reasons. Thank you.

Hello Hosseinpour,

You can find a good explanation from Merriam-Webster here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by EnglishZenon on Mon, 15/01/2018 - 21:41

Permalink
Hi people! It's me again! The previous lesson stated this: 5. We use a/an with a singular noun to say something about all things of that kind: A man needs friends. (= All men need friends) A dog likes to eat meat. (= All dogs like to eat meat) And this lesson states this: 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) What is the difference?

Hi EnglishZenon,

This is a complex area. In fact it is possible for all three options (the zero article, the indefinite article and the definite article) to be used with general meaning. However, there are subtle differences between them.

 

a + singular countable noun

We can use this with general meaning when we are talking about something which defines the group:

An elephant is an impressive sight.

In other words, being an impressive sight is one of the characteristics of an elephant; if we saw an animal and it was not impressive then we could be fairly sure that it was not an elephant.

We are talking about any elephant here - it is true of them all.

 

the + singular noun

We can use this with general meaning when we are talking about our image or concept of the noun:

The elephant can live for over sixty years.

Here we are not talking about a real elephant, but rather the concept of 'elephant' in our heads.

 

no article + plural countable noun or uncountable noun

We use this to talk about what is normal or typical of a type. It may or may not be true of all individuals but it is typical of most:

Swedish people are tall.

Here we are talking about the average height of Swedes, not any particular person or concept.

 

The distinctions here are subtle but can be important. For example, we can say with general meaning:

Whales are in danger of becoming extinct.

The whale is in danger of becoming extinct.

 

However, we cannot say:

A whale is in danger of becoming extinct.

This is because being in danger of becoming extinct may be true but it does not define the whale.

 

I hope that helps to clarify it for you. It is a difficult area, as I said.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

Permalink
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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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

Permalink
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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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

Permalink
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,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

Permalink
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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team