Articles: 'the' or no article

Articles: 'the' or no article

Do you know when you need to use the in common phrases and place names? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see when the is and isn't used.

I'm going to bed.
I walk to work.
My children are going to start school.
I visited the school yesterday.
Mount Everest is in the Himalayas.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Articles 2: Grammar test 1

Grammar explanation

Here are some ways we use articles in common phrases and place names.

Common phrases

We don't usually use an article in expressions with bed, work and home.

go to bed / be in bed
go to work / be at work / start work / finish work
go home / be at home / get home / stay at home

We also don't normally use an article in expressions with school, university, prison and hospital.

start school / go to school / be at school
go to university / be at university
be sent to prison / go to prison / be in prison
go to hospital / be in hospital

But we usually use the if someone is just visiting the place, and not there as a student/prisoner/patient, etc.

My son has started school now. I went to the school to meet his teacher.
I went to the prison a lot when I was a social worker.
I'm at the hospital. My sister has just had a baby.

Place names

We don't normally use an article for continents, most countries, cities, towns, lakes, mountains or universities. So, we say:

Africa, Asia, Europe
India, Ghana, Peru, Denmark
Addis Ababa, Hanoi, New York, Moscow
Lake Victoria, Lake Superior, Lake Tanganyika
Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus
Cardiff University, Harvard University, Manchester University

Some countries are different. Country names with United have the. There are other countries which are exceptions too. So, we say:

the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States of America
the Bahamas, the Gambia

Seas and oceans, mountain ranges and rivers have the:

the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Mediterranean
the Andes, the Himalayas, the Alps
the Nile, the Amazon, the Yangtze

Universities with of in the title also have the:

the University of Cape Town, the University of Delhi, the University of Tokyo

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Articles 2: Grammar test 2

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Hello disconzi,

The correct answer is 'a university'.

The key is to recognise the sound which begins the word, not the letter. The word 'university' begins with the letter 'u' but the sound /j/ as in the words 'yes', 'yellow' and 'yesterday'. Other words like university include useful, usual, universe, united, Uruguayan and UFO.

When the sound is /u/ (short) or /u:/ (long) we use 'an': umbrella, unusual, unknown and ultimate.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rio j on Thu, 01/12/2022 - 17:31


according to this said 'we use 'the' if someone is just visiting the place not there as a prisoner or student or patient.

So why we use 'the' in this grammar exercise.

''Every friday,my granddad goes to the prison to teach a math class.''
In the example, why we use 'the' prison???I am not clear at this.Because grandday goes to prison to teach a math. so may be he is a teacher... Right? he is a teacher so he goes to teach.But before this we said we use 'the' if someone is just visiting the place not as a why we use 'the prison ' in this sentence?

pls can u explain me.sry about that.I'm still new learner.

Hi rio j,

Sure, no problem. Yes, the grandad is a teacher. But the grandad does not live or stay in the prison, as a prisoner does. The grandad just goes to the prison every Friday (i.e., just visits it every Friday).

The idea is that without "the", it suggests that the speaker normally lives or stays there.

  • I'm in prison. (suggests that I am a prisoner)
  • I'm in school. (suggests that I am a student or a teacher)

With "the", it suggests that the speaker normally lives or stays somewhere else, and is just visiting this place temporarily.

  • I'm in the prison. (suggests that the person is e.g. a teacher or social worker who only goes there to visit)
  • I'm in the school. (suggests that the person is e.g. a parent)

However, I should add that in real life language usage, these phrases are often mixed. For example, a student might say "I'm in the school", talking about the school where he/she normally studies.

Does that make sense?


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sayinsu on Tue, 12/07/2022 - 19:28


Thanks in advance. I usually make mistakes inappropriately using article 'the'. How can I avoid such problem?

Hello Sayinsu,

It takes lots of practice and patience to learn to use articles in English. Even if your native language(s) has a similar system of articles, there are usually differences from one language to another which are difficult to learn. And if your native language(s) don't use articles at all, it can be very difficult.

I'd encourage you to notice articles and you read and listen. Not all the time, of course, as that would be exhausting, but if you pay attention to them, it can help a lot. It's also good to study them and do practice exercises, but in my experience as a teacher, people often don't do enough reading and so I usually recommend it over practice exercises.

The most important thing is to keep experimenting with different methods until you find one that works well for you.

We can also help you with specific questions here in the comments from time to time as well. I'd also recommend reading through other people's questions -- there is a goldmine of information in those.

Good luck!

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by tryyourbest on Tue, 24/05/2022 - 03:39


Thanks so much the teachers for useful lesson. It's rather easy to understand.

Submitted by Tiana Truong on Mon, 23/05/2022 - 08:08


I wonder why many articles use THE COVID 19 PANDEMIC instead of COVID 19 PANDEMIC. Could you explain it to me?
Thank you!

Hi Tiana Truong,

It's because in the phrase "the Covid-19 pandemic", the word "Covid-19" specifies which pandemic you are referring to, so it's a specific description. We can talk about other pandemics in the same way, with "the" (e.g. the bird flu pandemic).

If you remove "pandemic" from the phrase, then you should also remove "the" because "Covid-19" is a proper noun, e.g.:

  • The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the whole world.
  • Covid-19 has affected the whole world.

I hope that helps!


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ansari. on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 18:18


Grammar skills can be develop by yourself also practice