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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Hello, Peter. I see you say "you would need..." instead of "you need...", I'm wondering why you add "would?"

The use of articles is very much context dependent, so you would need to look at the sentence in it's broader context

Hello Plokonyo,

I think you've asked questions like this before and we've answered them, so perhaps you can try to explain it yourself and we'll comment after that. That way you'll see if your understanding is correct.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Philip on Wed, 29/09/2021 - 15:28

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I employed some workmen whose job included cutting trees in the garden.
I came back the next day the trees were all gone.
They said there was no difference between wanting them to cut down trees in the garden and wanting them to cut down the trees the garden.
Are they right?

Hi Philip,

It depends on the context - i.e., the rest of the conversation or discussion, including any other instructions about what the workers should do. 'Cut down THE trees in the garden' means 'all the trees'. 'Cut down trees in the garden' may mean all or some of the trees. If the intended meaning is that they should only cut down SOME of the trees, the speaker should specify which ones to cut down (and which ones not to cut down). Without that information, it could be understood as meaning 'all the trees'.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by DaniWeebKage on Wed, 08/09/2021 - 18:53

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Dear Team, Sarah is a daughter of Harley. Sarah is the daughter of Harley. 1)What's the difference? There is a boy whose name is John. There is the boy whose name is John. Which is the correct one and why? She's got a brighter future ahead of her. (Since I've seen many learning sites use future with 'the' when the word 'future' is considered as a noun) Should I use 'a' or 'the' 3)Is there any kind of ' Speakers' perspectives" in the uses of Articles?In other words, a situation that some may use 'a' but some may use 'the'. If there, give an example. Thanks You, I'd be clearer than ever in the uses of articles, if you answered all my questions.

Submitted by DaniWeebKage on Mon, 30/08/2021 - 18:59

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Dear Team, Imagine I were in a situation that I meet a man whose doesn't know anything about me and I want to talk about my house. Should I say 1) I live in a small house near a beach. 2) I live in a small house near the beach. And why? It said we use the with all the things referred to by a noun. 1) A teacher must be good at teacher. Is that right and why? I don't understand " there is only one in that content" I think all the examples are known both the listener and speaker. Could you give me more examples to clarify? Thanks a million.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 31/08/2021 - 09:49

In reply to by DaniWeebKage

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Hello DaniWeebKage,

Both sentences are possible but I think the most likely sentence is the second: ...near the beach. Certain geographical features tend to have the definite article before them in contexts like this, including by the lake, by the river, on the coast, near the beach, in the mountains and others.

In these examples we are not describing a particular beach (coast etc) but rather referring to the concept of beach. In other words we are telling the listener about the kind of location in which the house stands rather than describing a particular beach.

 

Your second sentence is not correct. The sentence should be:

A teacher must be good at teaching.

The indefinite article is used because you are talking about any teacher, not a particular teacher. You could also use a plural form without an article (Teachers must...). This would refer to all teachers.

 

'...there is only one in that context' means that the context limits the possible choices.

When there is a unique item in the world we use 'the': the Olympic marathon champion, the Pope, the President of France etc.

If we limit the context then we can create a unique item within that context: the dog in my garden, the lamp on my table etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Mon, 30/08/2021 - 03:18

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Dear team, The term "Asian" is widely used for those individuals who have ethnic ties to Asia, (of which) include the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian sub-continent. What is the reason that we can not use (of which) and we should use (which) in here? I always mix up these two, could you kindly suggest a book or site that explains these sort of things. I need to study. Thank you
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Mon, 30/08/2021 - 10:30

In reply to by Hosseinpour

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Hi Hosseinpour,

It's because which (substituting for Asia) is the subject of the relative clause, i.e.:

  • Asia includes the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian sub-continent.

Use of which (or another preposition + which) if Asia is neither the subject nor the object of the relative clause. In other words, to use of which, the relative clause must specify a new subject (i.e., not Asia; in the example below, it is 'we'):

  • The term "Asian" is widely used for those individuals who have ethnic ties to Asia, of which we can include the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian sub-continent. (subject = we; object = the Far East ... sub-continent).

You might find this page from the Cambridge Dictionary useful. See especially the 'which + prepositions' section, and other '+ prepositions' sections.

It would also be great if you can try to post questions on relevant pages. This question would be perfect for our Non-defining relative clauses page, for example. Thanks :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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

Submitted by Jembut on Thu, 26/08/2021 - 15:18

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Sir, does "there" here means "that"? There's the girl who works with my sister.

Hello Jembut,

'There' in this sentence is used to draw another person's attention to something that they may not have noticed. It's difference from 'that' or 'this', which refer to things already seen or noticed.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Thu, 26/08/2021 - 06:57

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Respected team, Were America and Europe to surprise sceptics and agree a sort of common market across the Atlantic. 1. past to be+ subject+ to+ verb What is the meaning of the above-mentioned sentence? (Were America and Europe to surprise) does this mean Are going to? or Were going to? Could you kindly explain when and how we can use this structure? Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

Without knowing the context in which this appears it is very hard to say. It looks like it may be part of an incomplete hypothetical construction as you can use inversion in place of if in sentences like this:

If America and Europe were to surprise sceptics and agree a sort of common market across the Atlantic, then...

Were America and Europe to surprise sceptics and agree a sort of common market across the Atlantic, then...

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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 :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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

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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?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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

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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

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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!

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,

Kirk

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

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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!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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.

Jonathan

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.

Jonathan

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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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 :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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