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: 4.6 (35 votes)

Submitted by Nhung Le on Thu, 26/01/2023 - 13:40


Hello, could you explain why we can use article "the" in phrase: the past year. I don't know what rules allow to do it.

Hello Nhung Le,

As far as I know, this is just the way we say it. I can't think of a situation in which 'past year' (without 'the' or 'this' before it) would be correct.

I'm sorry I'm unable to give you a more logical reason.

All the best,
LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by quydohmu on Thu, 19/01/2023 - 15:37


The heart pumps blood around the body
Can you help me answer the question?
what does "the" in the body mean? if we say The heart pumps blood around body. is this sentence fail or true?

Hello quydohmu,

You need to use 'the' here; the sentence is incorrect without it.

The sentence is general (all hearts) rather than specific (one particular person's heart). In English when we want to make a general statement we usually choose from two options:

1) plural noun without an article:
"Hearts pumps blood around bodies."
> we use this when we want to describe what most hearts do. There may be exceptions and it may not always be true, but it is a good general summary.

2) singular noun with the definite article (the):
"The heart pumps blood around the body."
> we use this to describe the nature of the heart. It tells us that this is a function of the heart; if it is not pumping blood around the body then it is probably not a heart or is in some way not functioning.

Here is another example:

"Elephants like to eat the bark from trees."
> this is common and normal for elephants; most elephants do it

"The elephant is a large mammal with a trunk and big ears."
> these are characteristics of the creature; if you see an animal and it is not large and does not have a trunk and big ears, it's not an elephant.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by quydohmu on Thu, 19/01/2023 - 15:05


i have questions:
1-fish live in the sea.
I read this sentence in a story, but i don't explain fuction of "the" in the sentence.
Can we say Fish live in sea?

Hello quydohmu,

No, you need to use 'the' here. When we talk in general terms about geographical regions we use 'the':

> fish live in the sea
> lions live on the savannah,
> pandas live in the forest

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by masoud_na on Tue, 17/01/2023 - 10:08


Would you please tell me why the below sentence is wrong in terms of articles? Grammarly said "the science", "the grammar", "the punctuation", and "the spelling" are not correct.

"The woman introduced some significant factors, among which the science would contribute to the grammar, the punctuation, and the spelling."

Hi masoud_na,

It's probably because "science", "grammar", "punctuation" and "spelling" are commonly used as uncountable nouns. If you are talking about science, grammar (etc.) in a general sense, without referring to any particular situation, then I agree that it's better without "the". However, I would say that it is fine to use "the" if you are referring not to those things in general, but particular and defined things. For example, you might be referring to the grammar, punctuation and spelling that was used in a particular essay, or some other particular text (rather than grammar, punctuation, spelling in general), which perhaps may have been mentioned in the sentences before this one, and "the science" may refer to a particular type of scientific method or idea (rather than science in general).

I hope that helps.


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andres_b on Tue, 10/01/2023 - 13:55


"We live in a small house next to the church. (= the church in our village)"

Ok, so this means that if we have the one and only church in our village, we should use "the church".
So in the same village, we should say:
"on Sunday we go to the church"
because "on Sunday we go to church"
would be incorrect?

Hi Andres_b,

You can say either "We go to the church" or "We go to church". Both are correct.

With some place nouns (e.g., church, school, hospital, prison) in some phrases (e.g. after the verb "go", or after the preposition "in"), it is common to drop the article (e.g. "I go to school by bus"; "My brother is in church right now"), even if there is only one school, church etc. Phrases like "go to school" and "in church" are probably best understood as vocabulary phrases (which sometimes do not follow standard rules), not just issues of pure grammar.

The phrases without articles have also taken on an added meaning of receiving the service that is typically associated with that place. If somebody went to church in order to receive a religious service, they are more likely to say "I went to church" than "I went to the church". Similarly, if someone was injured and needed medical treatment, they are more likely to say "I had to go to hospital" than "I had to go to the hospital". The phrases without articles suggest physically going there AND ALSO receiving the service typically associated with that place. On the other hand, we would be more likely to say "I went to the church" (with the article) if you want to say simply that you physically went there (without necessarily receiving a religious service), or you did some other action there (e.g. "I went to the church to meet my friend." - you met outside the church, rather than during the church service, for example). It is a subtle difference, however, and in many situations it may not matter. I should also point out that I used the phrase "more likely" in my explanation because this is a tendency, rather than a hard-and-fast distinction. There is some overlap in meaning between the two forms.

As a final note, I should say that I am talking about British English usage here (there may be differences in other varieties of English).

I hope that helps.


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Tue, 03/01/2023 - 05:21


Hello respected team
A ranger chooses "Will" to be his apprentice, and then the ranger takes him with (him/ himself). Which is correct (him or himself)?
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

The correct form is 'him'. Reflexive pronouns like 'himself' are only used when the subject and the object of the verb are the same, Here the verb is 'take' and the subject (the ranger) and object (Will) are different.

Stylistically, the sentence is potentially confusing because of the close proximity of the pronouns. You would probably change one of them to an alternative reference device:

A ranger chooses Will to be his apprentice, and then the ranger takes the young boy / his new helper with him.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Emad.E2022 on Thu, 29/12/2022 - 16:23


First of all thank you for your great job.
My question is about using definite article "the" before newspapers.
In the exercise "Grammar reference: The definite article with names 3", it says: "Popular newspapers in France include Le Monde and Le Figaro."
My question is why didn't it use "the Le Monde and the Le Figaro"? Can we say since the word "Le" in French means "the", so "using the definitie article in these cases" is optional?
All the best.

Hi Emad.E2022,

We are glad to hear that you like the site :)

It would be considered incorrect to say "The Le Monde" and "The Le Figaro", for the reason that you said. 

However, for some other newspapers, it has become common to translate the definite article in their names to "the", instead of keeping the article in the original language. For example, the Italian newspaper "Il Corriere della Sera" is often called "The Corriere della Sera" in English.

I hope that helps.


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Thu, 15/12/2022 - 16:33


Hello respected team,
This is him/he.
Which one is correct? Him or He?
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

The standard form in modern English is 'him' (her, me, us, them etc): Remember the guy from Australia that I was telling you about earlier? This is him.

You can find the subject pronoun used occasionally but it's usually self-consciously archaic and said for dramatic effect: He burst into the room and shouted 'It is I, the King, and you are all under arrest!'



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Sat, 10/12/2022 - 06:30


Hello dear team,
For each page, you need to look up ten words' meanings/meaning.
Is it (meaning or meanings)?
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

The plural form (meanings) should be used if the words have different meanings. If the words all had the same meaning then the singular would be possible.



The LearnEnglish Team

Is it possible to drop the definite article before 'tropical birds' in the following sentence?
" I consider the tropical birds to be beautiful."
I think the word 'tropical birds' has been used in a general sense here.It is not specific. Then why the definite article is used here? Please explain,

Hello p t balagopal,

If the sentence is a general statement about tropical birds in general, 'the' should not be used here. If it's about a specific group of tropical birds that's already been mentioned in some way, then 'the' can be used to refer to that group.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Fri, 02/12/2022 - 05:13


Respected team,
This series is/are about animals.
Which one is true? is or are?
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

The noun 'series' has the same form in the singular and plural. However, in your sentence you use the determiner 'this', which indicates that you are thinking of one series ('these' would be plural). Therefore in this sentence you need to use 'is'.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Tue, 15/11/2022 - 06:02


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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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


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


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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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


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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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


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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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


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,
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.


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Sir.

Then, I can use both to say something about all the things referred to by a 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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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



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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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


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?