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
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.
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:
- geographical features, such as mountain ranges, groups of islands, rivers, seas, oceans and canals:
|the Atlantic (Ocean)
|the Panama Canal
|The Washington Post
- well-known buildings or works of art:
|the Empire State Building
|the Taj Mahal
|the Mona Lisa
|the United Nations
|the Seamen's Union
- hotels, pubs and restaurants:
|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:
- The definite article with names 1
- The definite article with names 2
- The definite article with names 3
- The definite article with names 4