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=

 

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Submitted by bella9073 on Tue, 23/03/2021 - 00:25

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Hello Can you explain why we say go to "the" bathroom? Especially in one building, there are many bathrooms, why do we still say "go to the bathroom?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 23/03/2021 - 08:33

In reply to by bella9073

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Hello bella9073,

When we say 'I need to go to the bathroom' we are talking about the physical need, not the room. You could say 'I need to go to the bathroom' in the middle of a field or a forest, for example!

If we want to talk about the room then we would use 'a' or 'the' depending on the situation. Generally, we assume that there is one bathroom, or that it's understood that we mean the nearest bathroom. However, we might say 'Is there a bathroom here?' on a hotel floor, for example, or ask very politely 'Could you tell me where I can find a bathroom, please?'

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Mr. Peter. Sometimes, when I ask my colleague where she is going, my colleague says "I am going to the pharmacy" or "I am going to the supermarket." Why say"the"?

Hello again bella9073,

It's common to use 'the' with shops and similar places. Depending on the context, it may mean that the speaker is talking about a specific shop or it may simply mean 'I'm going shopping'. Both of these conversations are possible, for example:

 

I'm going to the shop.

OK. Listen, in the centre aisle they've got some new chocolate bars with caramel filling. Could you get me one?

[both speakers understand which shop they are talking about]

 

I'm going to the shop.

OK. Could you get some cheese which you're there?

Sorry, I'm just going to the newsagent's.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

How about the use of “the” in front of room names at school? Say, “in the English Room”? Or no need for the article there?

Hello Ja71na,

Yes, 'the' is used in this case too, for the same reason as 'the bathroom' that Peter explained above.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Salum Hilali on Mon, 15/03/2021 - 09:16

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Hellow. How about names of airports such as Dubai airport,Julius Nyerere International Airport.? Do we use definite articles ?

Hi Salum Hilali,

Normally, these are without the definite article. But, you could say the airport (without naming it) if it's clear to the listener or reader which airport you mean. :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cynthia on Wed, 10/03/2021 - 04:21

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Dear sir. Could you explain the differences between the four sentences? 1. Rises of computers are inexorable. 2. The rise of the computer is inexorable. 3. The rise of computers is inexorable. 4. Rises of the computers are inexorable

Hello cynthia,

We don't use 'rise' in the plural to talk about a single item (computers), so 1 and 4 are not correct.

Sentences 2 and 3 are both possible. We can use both the zero article with a plural noun and the definite article with a singular noun for general meaning:

computers: zero article with plural noun - used to generalise about what is typical

the computer: definite article with singular noun - use to describe an imagined representative/model example

In certain contexts the a difference can be important, but in your context you can use either form without changing the meaning of the sentence.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Gendeng,

'A second change' here has a similar meaning to 'another change'.

It's normal to say 'the first change' but then talk about 'a second change', 'a third change' etc. I can't explain a logical rule for this; it's simply the convention which has grown up through usage over time.

 

I think if we said 'the second change' it would imply that we were waiting for a particular change. In other words, we would know which player was going to be replaced and which player was going to come on. It would imply a known plan. A commentator might say this if, for example, a player is injured and his replacement is warming up, so they know that the change is coming and are just waiting for it to happen.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Jembut,

The Cambridge Dictionary has a good general explanation of how to use 'at', 'in' and 'on' to speak about a place. When I talk about the website in general, I use 'on' ('There are lots of useful resources on LearnEnglish'), but I think it's also OK to say 'at'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gendeng on Wed, 17/02/2021 - 11:30

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Hi, teachers. Could you explain which 'bus'/'train' the speaker means? Is there only one bus/train? We'll have to take the bus/train.

Hi Gendeng,

We can use the definite article in several ways. When you say 'the bus' it could mean a particular bus (Look - the bus is coming!) or it could have a general meaning and refer to the means of transportation (I prefer the bus to the train).

The context tells us if the meaning is general or specific here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Smiley1 on Wed, 03/02/2021 - 13:56

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Thank you for “the” explanation! Thank you for “your”explanation! Which one is correct?

Hi Smiley1,

Both versions are correct, and commonly used :)

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Sat, 30/01/2021 - 00:17

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Hi everyone. Why is the article 'the' used for the first time with "shops"? There are lots of shops. Why use a definite article? Shall I pick up the laundry for you? Oh, no, don’t make a special journey. It’s OK. I'll be going to the shops anyway.

Hi Crokong,

A speaker says the shops when the listener knows which shops the speaker is referring to. In your example, the speaker may mean:

  • the shops that we usually go to
  • the only shops that are in our area
  • the shops that he/she mentioned before.

We can use the with singular or plural nouns.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Crokong,

Yes :) It should be an indefinite article, the first time you mention the shop.

If you mention the shop again later in the conversation, you can use the definite article (because, after the first mention, the listener now knows which shop you mean).

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Plokonyo,

That's generally the right meaning :) But I've added some information in another comment below about the difference in emphasis between the and this.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Plokonyo,

The noun restaurant needs to have an article. It could be:

  • I'm going to a restaurant tonight. (The listener doesn't know which restaurant I mean.)
  • I'm going to the restaurant tonight. (The listener knows which restaurant I mean.)

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Plokonyo,

It's similar! If you say this, you are indicating this afternoon (not any other afternoon) and this day (not any other day) to the listener, with emphasis.

In the examples you mention, the speaker uses the. It identifies which afternoon/day the speaker means, but without the emphasis that this has. The first change of the afternoon must be the afternoon now/today, and word of the day must be today.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kosoy007 on Sat, 26/12/2020 - 08:48

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Hello there! Please provide me some details about the issue with understanding the case I faced with during reading the news on BBC website. Here it is: "The trade agreement is primarily about the rules for goods crossing borders. It will say far less about the trade in services. Is there going to be a separate statement from the EU which will recognise UK rules governing financial services as roughly "equivalent" to EU rules? That would make it much easier for UK firms which export services to continue doing business in the EU market. There is, as expected, not a lot in this agreement for service companies to cheer about. The UK will still be hoping that the EU issues an "equivalence" decision on financial services in the near future, but service companies in general have not got as much help in this deal as the British government had been pushing for. The guaranteed access that UK companies had to the EU single market is over." The question is: why they use 'the' in some cases like 'the EU issues' or 'the EU single market' and skip it in writing 'UK rules' or 'UK companies'? That moment is kinda confusing and I would like to make it clear. Thank you so much in advance!

Hello kosoy007,

It depends on whether 'EU' and 'UK' are acting as noun phrases or as adjectives modifying another noun. For example, 'UK companies' means 'companies in the UK' or 'British companies': the word 'UK' tells us which companies and is acting as an adjective.

In contrast, in 'The UK will still be hoping that the EU issues an "equivalence" decision ...', 'the UK' means 'The United Kingdom' (i.e. the government of the UK) and 'the EU' refers to the government of the EU (in this case, 'issues' is a verb).

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much for replying, Kirk! Please also explain the moment why they use "the EU market" in the sentence "That would make it much easier for UK firms which export services to continue doing business in the EU market." Because you can also say "European market" or "Europe Union's market" so "EU" is shown as an adjective here, but still is using with a definite article "the". The same situation repeats in "The guaranteed access that UK companies had to the EU single market is over" with "the EU single market" phrase, which means "European united market", as I understand. Could you please provide some info about these particular cases as well? Thank you for your help!

Hello kosoy007,

It's common to use abbreviations of organisations and states in this way:

the UN General Assembly

the UK Parliament

the EU single market

the US Treasury Department

 

You can use European as an adjective, of course, or say the European Union's single market, but I think the EU... is the most common choice in this context. It's really a matter of convention, however, not grammatical or lexis rules.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ISABELEDWARDS on Sat, 19/12/2020 - 06:36

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I was wondering if it is ok to say "end of year ceremony" or is it"end of the year ceremony "

Hello IsabelEdwards,

You can say both, though in most situations 'end-of-year ceremony' is probably more common.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hashemi_Ashka on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 08:55

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Hi, I 'd like to ask a question. Can we use definite areticle before an expression which shows possession using apostrophe? For example: The Oke's model
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 07:42

In reply to by Hashemi_Ashka

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Hi Hashemi_Ashka,

You can use the definite article before a noun with a possessive apostrophe. For example:

the dog's tail

the car's door

the teacher's desk

 

However, this does not change the normal rules of article use. If the word 'Oke' in your example is a name then no article would be used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lakmi on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 05:28

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Dear all, can you please tell me whether to use definite article before proper nouns like Big Ben, London Eye, Westminster Bridge? many thanks

Submitted by Sourav Bhatia on Thu, 22/10/2020 - 13:44

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can you explain use of the with classroom In my opinion what can be expected is a change of the teachers’ role, but not their disappearance from the classroom.

Hello Sourav Bhatia,

This is an example of using the definite article for general representation.

We can use the indefinite article, the definite article and the zero article with general meaning, but there are some differences.

 

a + singular countable noun

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

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. For example:

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. This is the reason for the use of 'the' in your example.

 

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. For example:

Swedish people are tall.

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

 

The distinctions are subtle but sometimes 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 complex area.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Royanabiyeva on Wed, 21/10/2020 - 08:02

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Hello, do you use definite article 'the' with the names of countries like Yaman like The Yaman, the Sudan, the Argentine, the Hague, the Lebanon, the Crimea, the Senegal, the Kameroon, the Congo, the Ukraine? Are these true according to English grammar? And one more question, do you the with the names of waterfalls? Is there a rule about it?

Hello Royanabiyeva,

It's true that in the past, 'the' was often used with some of the other place names in your list, but as far as I know, the only one of the places where 'the' is used by most people these days is 'the Hague'. I expect you could find exceptions to what I've just said, however. I'd suggest you check an encyclopedia as an example of correct use.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ahrene on Wed, 21/10/2020 - 04:55

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Hi. I'm really appreciated your content. By the way, I have a question. 1. Let's go to the beach. -> In this sentence, do people know which beach it is? If it's not an exact beach, Can I use a beach? 2. I love August ; I go to the beach with Danny. -> If I just like going beach, Can I use a beach?? It's so confusing.. :(

Submitted by ahrene on Thu, 22/10/2020 - 00:25

In reply to by ahrene

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Please answer my question.

Hi ahrene,

There are two possible meanings of the beach here.

  1. It's a particular beach, and people know which one the speaker means (as you correctly mentioned). For example, maybe the speakers go regularly to one particular beach, or there is only one beach in the local area.
  2. It has a generic meaning. The beach represents the whole class of beaches (i.e., all beaches or any beach). This is similar to the "to say something about all the things referred to by a noun" in the explanation above. In this case, the speaker doesn't indicate a particular beach. This may be because the speaker has no preference (any beach is OK). Or, maybe the speaker just wants to check the listener's general feeling about the beach first, and intends to discuss details of the beach trip later in the conversation.

Yes! It's also possible to say a beach here too in both your sentences, meaning 'any beach' and not a particular beach.

Does that make sense? There are a lot of options :)

We answer questions as soon as we can, but at busy times it may take us a little more time!

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kunthea on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 09:30

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The article the with families like 'the Obamas'. Could you tell me it is wrong when I write the Obama's (with the apostrophe)? Thanks a lot.

Hello Kunthea,

Since 'the Obamas' refers to more than one person, the apostrophe should go after the 's': 'the Obamas' house'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Kirk! You know one of my teachers explained that this sentence is correct: 'The Sok's has moved to Japan for ten years.' Is this sentence correct? Why or why not? one more thing, he gave me an example about the definite article 'the' + noun to talk about noun in general: 'The vegetable is full of chemicals.' And he said that the word 'vegetable' is uncountable noun, a collective noun. Besides, he said the article 'the' cannot be used with uncountable noun when we talk about noun in general. And then he told me that 'The vegetable' is an exception, which we can use to talk about things in general. Please help me clarify this doubt. I'm so confused with what he said. All the best, Kunthea

Hello Kunthea,

I'm not familiar enough with 'Sok's' to be able to say for sure. It sounds a little odd to me, but it could well be correct.

I'd say that the sentence 'The vegetable is full of chemicals' falls under the category of saying something about all the things referred to by a noun that is mentioned above.

It's not wrong to say that, but 99% of the time, we say 'Vegetables' instead of 'The vegetable'. I can't think of a time I've ever used 'the' in that way. It's something you might hear in a very old documentary, but otherwise it's quite rare.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team