The definite article: 'the'

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



Average: 4.5 (72 votes)

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Sun, 22/08/2021 - 21:18

Hello dear team, Without the "greenhouse effect", Earth (would be) too cold to support most forms of life. Why can't we use (will be) instead of (would be)? Thank you

Hi Hosseinpour,

Will indicates a realistic situation, i.e., something that (in the speaker's view) is possible in real life, and would indicates a hypothetical or imaginary situation, i.e., something that (in the speaker's view) is impossible, unlikely or unrealistic.

The greenhouse effect is a natural process of the Earth and its atmosphere, so we don't have a reason to think that it will end. That's why would be is a better answer in your sentence - it reflects that fact that this situation is unlikely, impossible or unrealistic.

Will be is grammatically correct too, but if the speaker says will be, it indicates that this situation is possible, so it might slightly confuse the listener (because if the listener knows that the greenhouse effect is a natural process, he/she knows that it is impossible or unlikely to end.)

Thanks for your question and I hope my answer helps :) You can find more examples and explanation on this page about will and would and if you have more questions about this topic, please post them on that page. Thanks :)


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Jonathan R, Thank you for the help and time.

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Tue, 17/08/2021 - 12:19

Respected team, Daycare is a service(in which) children or dependent adults are cared for while the person who normally cares for them can not do so. Why can't we use (that) instead of (in which)? Thank you

Hi Hosseinpour,

Good question! Let me clarify some terminology first. ‘That’ and ‘which’ are relative pronouns, and it’s important to understand that relative pronouns substitute for a previous noun. For example, in the sentence Daycare is a service that … , the relative pronoun ‘that’ substitutes for ‘a service’. The relative pronoun introduces a relative clause describing ‘a service’.


You should use ‘that’ and ‘which’ when the relative pronoun is the subject or object in the relative clause. For example, we use ‘that’ here:

  • Daycare is a service that the government provides. (‘that’ = object of the verb ‘provides’, i.e. The government provides the service.)
  • Daycare is a service that helps many people. (‘that’ = subject of the verb ‘helps’, i.e. The service helps many people.)


In your example (which I’ll slightly simplify), I’ll underline the relative clause:

  • Daycare is a service in which children are cared for.

The verb phrase is ‘are cared for’. The subject is ‘children’ (not ‘service’). It doesn’t have an object (it doesn’t make sense to say ‘children are cared for service’). So, that’s why we can’t say ‘Daycare is a service that …’ in this sentence – because ‘that’ (referring to ‘a service’) isn’t the subject or object in the relative clause. This might be clearer if we rephrase the sentence:

  • Children are cared for in the daycare service.
  • In the daycare service, children are cared for.

The relationship between ‘children are cared for’ and ‘a service’ is that one happens in the other – i.e., children are cared for in the daycare service. That’s why we need ‘in which’. Does that make sense?


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Jonathan R, Thank you sir for the time and help.

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Tue, 10/08/2021 - 08:41

Respected team, At first the lie he had told did not bother the boy, but after a few days, it became a great burden to him. Now, he wishes he (COULD HAVE GONE ) back and undone what he had done. Aren't we supposed to use past perfect in the parentheses? What is the reason that this is a true answer? Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

You could use a past perfect form here: he wishes he had gone, but the perfect modal verb is also correct.


Both forms (wishes he had gone and wishes he could have gone) describes unreal past situations, but the first describes an act while the second describes a possibility or opportunity:

wishes he had gone - he didn't go

wishes he could have gone - he didn't have the opportunity/was not able to go



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sokhom on Wed, 04/08/2021 - 17:15

Hello, Sir + E.g. Scientists have recently discovered a new species of plant. I wondered why 'plant' has no articles. + Could you please tell me which one is correct: 1. I live Takeo Province. 2. I live in the Takeo province. 3. I live in Takeo province. 4. I live in a Takeo province. Your explanation is a big help for me. Best Wishes!
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Thu, 05/08/2021 - 10:41

In reply to by Sokhom


Hello Sokhom,

Of those four options, 3 is the correct one.

As for the other sentence, 'plant' is referring plants in general, not to a specific one or one already mentioned. 'a new species' refers to one particular species that is just now being mentioned, but 'plant' does not.

Hope that helps.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

I really appreciate it! I just know that can see your reply only when I logged in. Could I write the sentence as below: - Scientists have recently discovered a new species of a plant. As I have learned, either 'a/an/the' or 'inflected form (-s)' is used when using a count noun. So, I think 'plant' should be preceded by 'a'. Please help me! Thank you for your precious time. Best Wishes!

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Sun, 01/08/2021 - 18:53

Hello dear team, When modern coastal fish-farming began 30 years ago, no one was doing things right,------- for the environment --------- the industry's long-term sustainability. In the blank space, can I use (whether/or)? If not why? Thank you

Hi Hosseinpour,

Yes! Whether/or works fine.

There is another option - to use either/or. But there's a slight difference in meaning.

  • either A or B - suggests that there are only two possibilities in total (e.g., The medicine may produce side effects, either positive or negative.)
  • whether A or B - means something like 'no matter', and doesn't suggest a limited number of possibilities.

I hope that helps!


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by LitteBlueGreat on Mon, 19/04/2021 - 18:07

Good evening sir, could you give me further explanation and corretion.. as follows if referring to "to say something about all the things referred to by a noun:" my doubt is if "the+singular" shows its role as above then what's difference of "the + plural"? for instances : A) The planet is circular (planets are circular, referring to all planets) B) The planets are circular in my opinions B example seems to have 2 meanings 1. it is also as equal as the meaning of A example. 2. referring to exact planets at which either reader or listener has certainly known (the last comes from "We use the definite article in front of a noun when we believe the listener/reader knows exactly what we are referring to: ") am i right? thank you sir

Hi LitteBlueGreat,

Yes, that's right! I would add that the first meaning you mention (to say something about all the things referred to by a noun) is often used in academic or scientific explanations, since it refers to an entire class of things rather than one particular identified thing, just as in the examples above and your example. So, it's often used to explain something about animals, parts of the body, inventions and pieces of technology, for example. It's perhaps less common in ordinary conversation, and your option B would be more common.

I hope that helps.


The LearnEnglish Team

if it's the case, the existence of the wolf, the heart, the planet is merely the representation of all its same group/class... is it right again sir?

Hi LitteBlueGreat,

Yes, that's right. If I say, for example:

  • The wolf is not really a dangerous animal.

I'm making a statement about all wolves, or every wolf.


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Jonathan. I see your sentence use "would" as in "I would add that..." and "your option B would be more common". Could you tell me the use of "would" in your sentence?

Hello Plokonyo,

I'm afraid Jonathan won't be able to reply in the near future, so I thought I'd respond in his stead.

The 'would' in 'I would add that ...' shows that Jonathan is speaking about how he would change LittleBlueGreat's explanation if he (Jonathan) were editing it. So in this sense, it's speaking about a hypothetical situation. Which I know may seem a bit strange because Jonathan is in fact adding to the explanation. The way to understand this is to see it as a way of politely doing this.

In the case of 'your option B would be more common', 'would' again refers to a hypothetical situation: if the context were ordinary conversation, option B would be more common. Jonathan could also have said 'in the context of ordinary conversation, option B is more common', but we often use 'would' to be less direct and thus more polite.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Olga21 on Tue, 30/03/2021 - 17:21

Hi! Can you please help me? Is it correct to say " we are watching the new film". I doubt in the article

Hi Olga21,

It may be correct - it depends on the context. If, for example, both the speaker and the listener know which film they are talking about then 'the' is fine. Perhaps they've already been talking about it, or perhaps they've just bought a DVD.

If, however, it could be any film then they would say 'a new film'.


Articles are very often context dependent. They signal what is known and shared and what is new.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Indiana on Thu, 25/03/2021 - 13:10

Hello everyone, I'd like to know if I've used the definite article correctly in the following examples: The University of Havana. The Jose Martí National Library. The Cristóbal Labra Polyclinic. The 28 de enero Hospital. Thanks so much for your help and time. Have a good day. Greetings. Luis.

Hi Indiana,

Yes, these are all correct :)


The LearnEnglish Team

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

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


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?'



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.



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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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

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. :)


The LearnEnglish Team

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

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.



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.



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,


The LearnEnglish Team

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

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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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

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,


The LearnEnglish Team

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

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,


The LearnEnglish Team