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

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 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

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The definite article with names 2

 GapFillTyping_MTU3MDg=

The definite article with names 3

GapFillTyping_MTU3MDk=

The definite article with names 4

GapFillTyping_MTU3MTA=

 

Average
Average: 4.6 (74 votes)

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Tue, 25/04/2023 - 17:33

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Respected team,
Sorry I kept you waiting.
Sorry to have kept you waiting.
Do they have the same meaning?
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

Yes, they mean exactly the same thing. The second one is a bit more appropriate in more formal situations, but both are polite.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Fri, 21/04/2023 - 18:38

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Hello dear team,
It is estimated that 124 million children worldwide lack vitamin A,
putting them at risk of permanent blindness and other health issues.
What kind of structure is (putting)? How can I make sentences like this?
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

This is an example of a participle clause, which is a kind of subordinate clause introduced by a participle (-ing (present participle) or the third form past participle).

You can read more about the form and use of participle clauses here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/b1-b2-grammar/participle-clauses

https://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/course/towards-advanced/unit-29/session-1

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Wed, 19/04/2023 - 14:03

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Hello dear team,
I'd hate to see monarchy abolished.
(I would= I'd ) why is it used in here?
Is (abolished) an adjective here?
Thank you

Hi Hosseinpour,

"I would" + verb is used to show your opinion in a polite and not-too-forceful way. Some other common phrases like this are "I would think ..." and "I would imagine ...". You may be interested in our page on Will and would (linked), which has a few examples of this at the end of the page.

Yes, "abolished" is a past participle functioning as an adjective.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by jasmine.pankhania on Fri, 07/04/2023 - 05:08

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Hi.

Is there a rule for which buildings / monuments we use 'the' with? As a native speaker, it feels intuitive but I am struggling with a way to teach this. For example, I would use the definite article when referring to the Taj Mahal, or the Burj Khalifa but not Angkor Wat or Stonehenge.

Thanks!

Hi jasmine.pankhania,

I think it is somewhat arbitrary. Sometimes the building's name in the local language also uses a definite article, which perhaps influences the way it is named in English in some cases (e.g. l'Arc de Triomphe). If the name includes a noun with some kind of description (e.g. the White House, the Forbidden City, the Tower of London), it will tend to use "the", However, I don't think we will find a grammatical rule that is applied consistently across all building/monument names, and there are bound to be examples that don't conform to this. Sorry, I can't really help!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by ASHA1992Shah on Thu, 30/03/2023 - 12:43

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Hello dear team!
I've got a question.
1. After I leave the school I want to go to University.
2. After I leave school I want to go to the University.
Which variant is correct? I do know, that we don't generally use definite article with places, but I feel I have to use "the" in this particular sentence. Thanks in advance for Your help!

Hi ASHA1992Shah,

If you say "leave the school" and "go to the university" (with "the"), you are referring to specific schools or universities, and you expect that the listener knows which particular one you mean. 

You can say "leave school" and "go to university" (both without "the") to mean the general institution of school/university, rather than particular schools/universities.

I would choose option 2 here. It seems like the person is talking more about school as an institution (i.e., a stage of education), rather than a particular school. Also, I noticed that it was "University" with a capital "U", so it seems to refer to a particular university (not to the general institution of university).

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Thanks a lot for a detailed answer. I highly appreciate the important job you do! And another question)
1. The Rio Grande River forms a boundary between the US and Mexico.
Is it correct to use an indefinite article here? Or we should rewrite the sentence as: "The Rio Grande River forms the boundary between the US and Mexico".

Hello Asha1992Shah,

Depending on the context, it can be correct. For example, if your focus is more on the role of rivers in geography and this is the first example you give, then 'a' would probably be a better choice. But if you're speaking specifically about the US or Mexico, then 'the' would probably be better.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Jack Nguyen on Wed, 22/03/2023 - 08:46

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Hi Academic Team,
Do we need "the" in capital there?
Thank you so much.
The given table illustrates how much money families in five countries allocated to five spending items. Overall, people in all THE countries examined spent more resources on food and drink and accommodation.

Hi Jack Nguyen,

It's still grammatical to write the sentence without "the". But I do think it is better to say "all the countries examined". This makes it clearer that it refers to the five specific countries that were mentioned in the previous sentence (rather than, for example, some other interpretation such as there being more than five countries examined, including the five in the table and also others not reported in the table).

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Jack Nguyen on Sat, 18/03/2023 - 10:25

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Dear Team, I really need your help with this one.
1. The use of computers and smartphones impedes (the) reading and writing abilities of young people. Do we need article "the" right before "reading..."
2. The solutions to this problem would lie in education and (the) allocation of government budget to industries. The same question is here as well.
Is it true that we need "the" in a pattern of "A of B"?
I would really appreciate your help with this!

Hi Jack Nguyen,

Yes, right. The "of" phrases define the noun, so "the" is typically used. For example, you can say "technological development" but also "the development of technology".

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Mon, 27/02/2023 - 16:49

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Hello dear team,
Who keeps you and your family safe? You? or (us)?
Is using (us) right? Or should I use *we*?
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

We typically use the object forms of personal pronouns ('us' is the object form of 'we'; 'you' is both a subject and object form) in short answers, especially in an informal style.

It's also possible to answer a question like this with the subject form of the pronoun plus an auxiliary verb. In this case, that would be 'We do'. This use is fairly common in informal styles, and a better option in formal situations.

To summarise: 'Us' is the correct answer. 'We' by itself is not correct here, though you could say 'We do'.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

 

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Mon, 13/02/2023 - 09:23

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Dear team hello,
1.The hotel also recognized that it would need a different approach (to selecting) employees. Can we use (to +verb+ ing)?
2. We improved both customer and (employee satisfaction). Why it is not employee's satisfaction?
Thank you

Hi Hosseinpour,

In 1, you can say "approach to select employees". This is an infinitive ("to" + verb), which shows a purpose. It means that "selecting employees" is the ultimate goal of the approach. In other words, the hotel needs a different approach in order to select employees.

Or, you can say "approach to selecting employees". Here, the structure is "approach" + preposition "to" + verb with "ing". Here, "to" is a preposition. If a verb follows a preposition, it must be in the "ing" form. This does not show a purpose/goal. It simply describes the action: the hotel needs a different approach to the selection of employees

It is a slight difference and probably unimportant.

In 2, you could also say "We improved both customers' and employees' satisfaction", but you would need to put 's after both nouns, not just one. The meaning is the same.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Wed, 08/02/2023 - 07:02

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Hello dear team,
The poor working condition( "working" is an adjective)
A poor work condition (Can we use "working" instead of "work"?)
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

When we want to talk about the situation people work or live in, we use the word 'conditions' (notice it's plural), not 'condition'. Since 'conditions' is plural, you could either say 'the poor working conditions' or 'poor working conditions' (but not *'a poor working conditions').

Whether you use 'the' or no article depends on the situation, following the general explanation above.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Dear teacher,
I wonder if we can say "Lake West is a good place to camp." or "the West Lake is a good place to camp." Which one is correct?

Hello tahophuongmai,

'Lake West' is correct and 'The Lake West' is not. We don't use 'the' before the names of lakes.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by quydohmu on Sun, 29/01/2023 - 13:31

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i have 2 questions about how to use "the".
1- forehead is the part of the face above the eyebrows.
if i say: forehead is part of a face above eyebrows. is it true or fail ?
2- Chin is central forward portion of the lower jaw; bottom of face.
i think this sentence is written as Chin is the central forward portion of the lower jaw; the bottom of the face.
explain this to me please!

Hi quydohmu,

For sentence 1, it is grammatically fine to say "a face". However, it's very common to use "the" with body parts and I think "the face" would be more commonly used than "a face". I think "the eyebrows" would be preferred, for the same reason.

In sentence 2, yes - your version of the sentence is correct. The definite articles are needed.

In both sentences, "the" is also needed before the first word -- "The forehead" and "The chin".

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Sun, 29/01/2023 - 06:09

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Hello dear team, and thanks for the time,
I sat (in) the bus chair or (on) the bus chair.
Thank you

Hi Hosseinpour,

With "chair" the usual preposition "on". However, a more usual word would be "bus seat" (rather than "bus chair"). You can say "in" or "on" with "seat".

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hi Mr. Jonathan
Can you help me with this question " The hydrogen/ Hydrogen is lighterthan the atmosphere."
Why we should choose " Hydrogen" and " the atmossphere" are the answers for this question. I can't understand. Thank for your help so much.

Hi tranglovee,

It's about whether the noun is countable or uncountable. "Hydrogen" is an uncountable noun. When we talk about things in general, we normally use an uncountable noun (or a plural noun, if it's countable) with no article.

"Atmosphere" is a singular countable noun. We use "the" because it refers to a particular atmosphere (i.e., the atmosphere of this planet, Earth).

I hope that helps to understand it!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

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

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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,
Kirk
LearnEnglish Team

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

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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.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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"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.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team