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 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

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 "