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 Tue, 15/11/2022 - 06:02

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Hello dear team,
I am in my classroom and as a student, I want to use the dustbin and throw away some papers. For this context can I say: May/can I use the dustbin? May/can I go to the dustbin?
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

Both 'may' and 'can' are fine here. Both modals can be used for permission. I think 'can' is more common and 'may' is a little more formal.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by flordez on Fri, 11/11/2022 - 14:09

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Hi, I have a question. I need to analyse "She was the one who told her." "What's the form of that "the"?

Submitted by sk0075 on Sun, 06/11/2022 - 09:02

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Hello, I've got a question regarding the usage of 'the' before proper nouns, particularly for events and festivals like Parents' Day, Sports Day, Mid-Autumn Festival, etc.

Is it wrong to put 'the' in front of these event names?
"When's the Parents' Day?" or "When's the Mid-Autumn Festival?"

Thanks in advance.

Hello sk0075,

In general, 'the' is not used before the names of holidays or special days. (By the way, you can see lots of examples of this usage in our Magazine zone, which is full of articles about holidays and other special days.)

There are certainly some exceptions to this, and one of these is with names that end with the word 'festival'. In these cases, 'the' is often used. I would say 'the Mid-summer festival', not 'Mid-summer festival', for example.

I'm not aware of any rule for this, however, so in the end it's a matter of usage as far as I know.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by JameK on Wed, 02/11/2022 - 09:35

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Sir, I got this question from a website.
I like this room but I don’t like ____ colour of ____ carpet.
They give the answer
the, the
Sir, in that sentence, can I use like that '' a color of the carpet ''. I think may be the carpet is made up of more than one color. So, I don't like one color of this carpet. Is that correct thinking, Sir? If not, explain me sir please.

Hello JameK,

What you say makes sense, but to communicate the idea you have people would say 'one of the colors' instead of 'a color'. Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by JameK on Fri, 21/10/2022 - 10:46

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Someone said me it is wrong to say that the sentence '' I take (the) English lessons with LetThemTalk ''. He said we can't put the definite article in that sentence. Could you explain me Sir? Aren't they not specific (English) lessons as we speak the English language?

Hello JameK,

It all depends on what you mean by the word 'specific'. From the perspective of explanations of articles in English, you're not speaking about specific lessons here. You're not talking about the lesson you had last week or the one in which you practised a particular grammar point (these are indeed specific lessons). Instead you're talking about these lessons in general -- you mean all of them. We don't generally use definite articles to talk about things in general.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by JameK on Thu, 13/10/2022 - 11:13

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In the definite article with names 3, the sentence, (It has borders with -the- English Channel.)Why is the article used?

This book has won (the) Booker price.In this sentence, why article is used? Sir, please explain me.I would like to know your way of thinking.

Hello JameK,

The English Channel is the name of a body of water, which is similar to a sea, ocean or canal. We normally use 'the' with such place names.

The Booker Prize is named after a company (Booker, McConnell Ltd), and this company was named after two men, George and Richard Booker. So in a way it's like referring to a family. Most prizes that are named after the people who started them (e.g. the Booker Prize, the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the Hugo Awards, etc.) are preceded by 'the'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much, Sir.It helps me a lot.
I would like to ask about a and the with general meaning.
We can use -a- with general meaning when we are talking about something which defines the group.But we can also use -the- when we are talking about our image or concept.

(A ) teacher is an important person in everyone's life.

In the above sentences, I think it is our concept to teacher. Am I in the wrong understanding, Sir? Please, explain me, Sir.

Hi JameK,

I'm not sure if I've understood your question correctly. But in this sentence, "a teacher" does not mean a specific teacher. The idea is "any teacher" or "a teacher in general".

We could also say "The teacher is an important person ...". Here, the we understand "the teacher" as a typical example or a representative of all teachers. See the page above from more examples of this (in the section "to say something about all the things referred to by a noun"). In effect, it's similar to the meaning of "a teacher". 

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Sir.

Then, I can use both to say something about all the things referred to by a noun.no difference

I am fond of classical music.In this sentence, only no article is used.(the) can't use because there are several types of classical music.Can't be specific.Is that way of thinking right Sir?

Hello JameK,

Even if there are different kinds of classical music, in saying 'I like classical music', we're referring to it in general. It sounds to me as if this is what you are saying and if so, that's correct.

Jonathan didn't say there is no difference; he said they are very similar. Using 'a' or 'the' can show a difference in the way the speaker is conceiving of whatever they are talking about. As always with articles, it's difficult to make general statements because it depends on the situation and the speaker's view of it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by JoelleCarrier on Mon, 26/09/2022 - 21:29

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Hello,

Quick question about "the" article.
Would you say
"The world famous movie Avatar" or "world famous movie Avatar"
"The American activist Jennifer Harbury" or "American activist Jennifer Harbury"
Would both be potentially grammatically correct?
Thank you very much

Hello JoelleCarrier,

When we use articles or not is highly dependent on the context and there are so many possible contexts (certainly more than I can think of!) that it's really hard for me to say for sure without knowing more. If you'd like to provide a context, please feel free to write back.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sajatadib on Sat, 17/09/2022 - 07:36

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Hello, I know it's not the right place to ask,but couldn't find the right one.
Could you clarify the difference of the two that I found in the headlines,please?
Ukrainian police,officials and the like.
But Ukraine's president.Why not Ukrainian president or president of Ukraine?

Hi Sajatadib,

It's also fine to say "the Ukrainian president" or "the president of Ukraine". They mean the same thing and they are also commonly used.

"The" is needed in both of those phrases.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yv Lamar on Sun, 04/09/2022 - 15:50

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Dear Team,

While my professional writing, I’ve got an issue on how the definite article is to be used in case of nouns with abstract meanings. The main question is whether an abstract word should be narrowed down to the last technically possible extent or any characteristic is ok to consider it specified and use “the”? I've found some examples of the definite article usage with such words. Could you, please, reply to my questions below? I’ve really got confused. I’ve passed IELTS Academic once (for 7.5), so I’ve tried to learn it from my IELTS books but there is nothing there on such cases. I’ve also looked it up in the Wallwork’s book of English for academic research and it tells us that “the normal rules of the use of articles in English have apparently been broken but are nevertheless frequently found in research papers written by native speakers” which got me even more confused cos’ it’s scientifically proved the English language is an analytic language and categories (instead of holistic connections) and inconsistency avoidance are essential. Here are the examples.

1. Both the phrases have a context as well as a reference (an implied connection to the company is clear to the target audience) by “of” phrases. Why "the" is preceding the word "elimination" but not "production" here?

1.1. We want to stop producing defective parts in our manufacturing - the elimination of variation is our goal (Cambridge Dictionary) I know “elimination of variation “ is a well-established term and I guess that’s why the zero article is preceding “variation” and the definite article is preceding only “elimination” here. It’s clearly obvious it’s about the variation in the production of a known to the target audience company. Am I right?

1.2. Production of the new aircraft will start next year (Oxford Dictionary) I guess “the new aircraft” has already been mentioned or implied in the context from which the phrase has been taken. Furthermore, before a decision to produce sth is finally made, a prototype of a new product is always constructed, I mean the way&details of any production process are always known before it actually starts (I know it from my work experience). Is “the” not preceding “production” here cos’ it’s implied the production details are not known to the target audience (the audience consists of people outside the company)? Or is it the concept that a future production can’t be definite as it’s not happened yet?

2. Why is there no definite article before "production" in the example below?

We need to increase production by 20%. (Cambridge Dictionary) - It's obvious not all production of the globe is going to be increased by 20% in the example but the production of the company whose managers are talking about it. Even if there are several production lines there, they still belong to this specific company implied by the speaker (and it’s clear for a listener). Thus, it can’t be interpreted as a generic reference (“all of them anywhere” as in “Money makes the world go around”). If a specification (even of an uncountable noun) is implied by the situation, the definite article is required accordingly to the rule. I guess there is no point in giving impracticable examples to English learners. The production of the company = all the production lines of all types of the company, not “all of them everywhere in the globe”

There is another example of an uncountable noun as well as of a group which can be further divided into (protein) types but specified only to the exact organism type (the main entity): At present, the annotation of the proteins of A. gambiae is preliminary. (A. Wallwork. English for Academic Research: Grammar, Usage and Style, p. 32).

3. While completing capital build and loss elimination looks wholly achievable, the bank needs some time to finish these tasks. (BBC website) Here “loss elimination” is also specified as connected to the exact bank about which the article is. Is there no definite article just because “elimination” doesn’t have grammatically connected “of” here?

4.

4.1.Would it be right to say “the elimination of losses” or “elimination of losses”? Or should “loss” be used instead of “losses”? the elimination of disease/poverty/crime (Oxford Dictionary) Here “elimination” is specified (narrowed down) by the “of” construction. “disease/poverty/crime” is a generic reference to uncountable nouns = all of them everywhere

4.2. The hypothesis about the partial elimination of the financial losses and financial risk elimination of the PUs has been supplied by our simulations. (EURASIP Journal on Wireless Communications and Networking) Here losses are narrowed down to the finance field. So, it’s a specific reference. I guess we can say here either “the financial losses” or “finance loss” or “the loss of finances”? I guess it’s right to say “the financial risk elimination of the PUs” but “financial risk elimination” without “of” structure. Am I right or not?

5. “Lack” is marked as “[uncountable, singular]” (Cambridge Dictionary) And then one of examples is the following. He was suffering from a complete lack of confidence. It’s commonly known that indefinite article can’t be used with uncountable nouns. Furthermore, when a noun can be both uncountable and countable (in a bit different meanings), it’s always marked in a dictionary as "countable, uncountable". Where is a mistake here?

I would really appreciate it if you help me.

Kind regards,

Hello Yv Lamar,

I appreciate the effort you've gone to to post your query in such detail! However, I have to say that this rather goes beyond the scope of our site here. We provide what help we can for learners who have questions but we are a small team and there is a difference between answering single questions and providing what would effectively be a long essay covering a wide range of issues. This is really an issue for discussion one-to-one with a teacher or colleague rather than a brief interaction in the comments section.

What I will say in general is that article choice is very much dependent on the context in which the language is used and the perspective of the speaker; there is often a choice of correct articles depending on these factors rather than a single correct option.

I'll try to demonstrate with one of your examples.

Your question was "Why "the" is preceding the word "elimination" but not "production" here?"

We want to stop producing defective parts in our manufacturing - the elimination of variation is our goal (Cambridge Dictionary) I know “elimination of variation “ is a well-established term and I guess that’s why the zero article is preceding “variation” and the definite article is preceding only “elimination” here. It’s clearly obvious it’s about the variation in the production of a known to the target audience company. Am I right?

All of the following examples are grammatically possible here:

elimination of variation is our goal

the elimination of variation is our goal

elimination of the variation is our goal

the elimination of the variation is our goal

The choice depends on the speaker. If the speaker sees or wishes to present, for example, elimination as a general concept then they will use the zero article. If, on the other hand, they see this as one specific act of elimination and perceive it as being one amongst a number of act of elimination then they will use the definite article. It's really not a question of grammar so much as one of personal choice/perspective/style. It may well also be influenced by collocational aspects - the speaker may be unconsciously choosing a particular form because they have seen, heard or read it before and see it as a likely chunk. In other words, it just sounds right to them in the same way that 'salt and pepper' sounds right and 'pepper and salt' does not.

 

I hope that helps somewhat. I think you might find stackexchange useful for these kinds of discussions - it's really what that site was intended for and there are a lot of knowledgeable posters there:

https://english.stackexchange.com/

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Suleman Mohalab on Sat, 03/09/2022 - 10:56

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Hello,
In these sentences, do we use (the) or not? :-
1-I want a job in (. ) machine industry.
2- I like (. ) old-fashioned jazz.

Hello Suleman Mohalab,

In 1, yes, you should use 'the' because there is only one machine industry -- there may be different specialised types, but they can all be grouped into this one category.

In 2, no, you should not use 'the' because it's a statement about that kind of jazz in general.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mr.Kirk,
First thank you for your reply, I am agree with you in the case number one, but in the case number 2 I want to know how is the old-fashioned jazz a general kind of jazz. I think it is specific.

Hello Suleman Mohalab,

You're welcome!

I'm sorry my explanation of 2 wasn't clear. When we make a general statement about something (e.g. 'Family is more important than money' or 'Kittens are cute' or 'I like Cuban music'), we don't normally use a definite article. This is why we would say 'I like old-fashioned jazz' (without 'the') -- it's a general statement about something.

This doesn't mean that 'old-fashioned jazz' is general; as you observe, it is a specific kind of jazz. But my statement about it is general.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mr.Kirk,
First thank you for your reply, I am agree with you in the case number one, but in the case number 2 I want to know how is the old-fashioned jazz a general kind of jazz. I think it is specific.

Submitted by knownman on Sat, 06/08/2022 - 18:05

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Hello guys,
I would like to ask a question about the paragraph given below. If you could kindly answer I will be happy:

The fact is that the cooking wasn't complete so they didn't have anything to eat so that means that while the past continuous shows us a long continuing action that is in progress at a specific moment IN THE PAST, the past perfect continuous shows us a long continuing action that isn't necessarily in progress at a specific moment IN PAST.

My question is that, why is there an article "the" in one of the phrase as there is no in the other one? I have difficulties of understanding of the article 'the'.

Thanks for the answer.
Take care of all the team.

Hi knownman,

Do you mean "IN THE PAST" and "IN PAST"? It must be a typing error. "In the past" is the correct version. :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan,
Thanks for the answer and yes I meant those phrases written in capital letters.
I wonder that if the native English speakers make mistakes about the article "the"? I feel like they don't care so much about it, even in an academic writing and speaking. As I mentioned in my first question I have been having issues of understanding of the article "the" especially when I speak. I am aware of that acquiring a language is a process that takes some time. But if you can give an another perspective about the below question I will be more appreciated.

What is the situation of native speakers using the article the? Do they underestimate of using it?
Thanks in advance for your answer.

Take care.

Hello knownman,

I agree with Jonathan: surely the writer meant 'in the past' (which would be correct). 'in past' is not correct there, though it is possible when 'past' is an adjective (e.g. 'They were successful on past attempts').

Ultimately we can't explain another person's writing, but I strongly suspect the writer unintentionally left out a word here. It's very common for anyone to leave out a word or misspell it when writing. I myself have done this many times; sometimes I catch the mistakes and correct them, but sometimes I don't. I expect that's what happened here.

In general, native speakers don't make mistakes with 'the'. I can certainly understand how native speaker usage of the definite article can seem inconsistent, but I'd say that in 99% of cases it is not. I think the best thing you can do as a learner is to read lots of texts and study instances that you have a hard time making sense of. You could also read through comments others have made on this page and our responses to them.

And be sure to patient! It really does take most people quite some time to feel more confident about them, and it's unusual never to make a mistake with them as a non-native.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sajatadib on Thu, 04/08/2022 - 19:03

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Hello there.I was wondering about scientific terms such as global warming, climate change , etc.For instance: How should we tackle climate change?
Please help me out here,Is the definite article needed in front of climate change? Thanks in advance.

Hello Sajatadib,

No, in general no article is needed before 'climate change'. You might want to have a look at a major online newspaper and search for 'climate change'. I'm sure you'll find several articles where you can see how the phrase is used in different ways.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sajatadib on Tue, 02/08/2022 - 16:00

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Hello good teachers.I would appreciate it if you could help me with this.I read a headline: How the British took over India.My question is what should we do with nationalities(here British)? with or without the definite article?

Hi Sajatadib,

Good question! The definite article is used correctly here. With some nationality adjectives, we can use "the" + adjective to mean the whole group of people. For example, "the British" means "British people" or "Britons". This can be done with:

  • adjectives ending in -sh (e.g. the British, the Spanish)
  • adjectives ending in -ch (e.g. the Dutch, the French)
  • adjectives ending in -ese (e.g. the Chinese, the Portuguese)
  • adjectives ending in -ss (e.g. the Swiss)

This cannot be done with all adjectives. For example, to mean "Canadian people", we can only say "the Canadians" (not "the Canadian").

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Hassan on Thu, 14/07/2022 - 22:20

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Hello teachers
may I know what I can use when I talk in general:
1-"People in Canada are kind" or "The people in Canada are kind".
2-"Restaurants in my city are good" or "The restaurants in my city are good".
3-"Boys in my class are clever" or "The boys in my class are clever".
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Hassan,

We use 'the' (the definite article) when we are specifying which item or groups of items we are talking about, and we use no article when we are talking about concepts or general categories. When we have a very large group, such as everyone in a country, we can speak of them as a general category, but when the group is very small this is not possible. So in part it depends on the size of the group.

Looking at your examples one by one:

1) Both forms are possible. You can talk in general about people as this is a very large group, but you can also use 'the' because the phrase 'in Canada' specifies which people you are talking about.

2) Here I think 'the' is more likely as the group size is not so large.

3) Here I think 'the' is required. Your class is not big enough to treat its boys as a general category.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Thu, 07/07/2022 - 12:07

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Hello. Could you please help me? I think both articles are OK in the following sentence, right? If not, why please.
- Naguib Mahfouz was a pioneer in (the - no article) Arabic Literature.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

No article is correct here; 'the' is not correct. It would indeed make sense to use 'the' here, but when we're speaking about the entire corpus of literature in a language, we don't use any article. 'Mahfouz was a pioneer in Arabic Literature', 'Don Quixote is the greatest work in all of Spanish literature', etc. I'm not sure why this is, but it is the case.

When, however, the word 'literature' refers to research that has been written on a topic, it's correct to use 'the' to refer to it. This is quite common in academic papers. For example, if I were writing an article about Naguib Mahfouz and wanted to speak about all of the academic papers that had been written about him, I could say something like 'All of the literature agrees that his exploration of existential themes is ...' Here 'the literature' refers to all of the secondary academic papers (whatever language they were written in), not to the primary sources.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by B H A R T I on Wed, 06/07/2022 - 12:21

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_watch tells us _time. which article should be used here? and why.

Hello Bharti,

Assuming that this is a definition, the correct articles are 'a' and 'the': 'A watch tells us the time.'

A definition introduces a new topic and so that is why we generally use 'a' instead of 'the'. The plural is also sometimes used ('Watches tell us the time'), but that doesn't seem to be an option here and the use of the singular is more common I'd say.

As for 'the time', when we're asking or speaking about clock time, we generally use 'the'. This is not an absolute rule, but is true in most cases.

If you are doing intensive study of articles, I'd suggest that you analyse sentences within context -- in other words, within paragraphs or texts that are longer than a single sentence. This is because which article is correct depends a lot on the situation, and with just a single sentence there often isn't enough information about the situation.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Ahmed Hassan on Fri, 19/11/2021 - 18:07

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Hello Teachers
I find some words written with and without a definite article such as "water" and "air". is there any difference?

Hello Ahmed Hassan,

We use 'the' when we are talking about something identified and specific. For example:

"There is water on the floor. What happened?"
"I spilt it when I was making some tea. Don't worry - I'll mop up the water."

The speaker says 'the water' in the second sentence because he or she knows which water they are talking about - it has already been identified.

Obviously, the use of 'the' depends on the context and how much information is shared between the speakers.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again, Teacher.
I mean when we talk about the words "water" and "air" in general, do we say "in water / in air" or "in the water/ in the air", for example, "How long can you hold your breath in the water?" and "How long can you fly a kite in the air ?".

Hello again Ahmed Hassan,

The phrases here would be a little different. We would most often say 'under water' and 'in the sky':

> How long can you hold your breath under water?
> How long can you fly a kite in the sky?

There are other possibilities but I think these are the most frequently used. 'Water' here is general rather than specific. 'The sky' is used because in this context we are thinking of the sky as a single thing which covers the whole world.

Articles are a rule-based grammatical system but there are also a lot of collocations and fixed expressions involved, so not every example can be explained with a clear grammatical rule.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Peter M. I see your sentence use "would" two times. Could you explain how it works?

The phrases here would be a little different. We would most often say 'under water' and 'in the sky':