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

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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Thanks Jonathan. My English grammar book says "the" is common with places that we go to for a particular purpose (that is more important than the individual place or its location), so we go to the petrol station (to fill up our cars) or to the pub (for a drink).

I don't understand the point of "the" is common with places that we go to for a particular purpose (that is more important than the individual place or its location". Could you explain?

Could you give example sentences?

Hello Jembut,

I had never thought of this use of 'the' in the way your grammar book describes it, but that makes sense to me. There are at least a couple of different ways one could make sense of saying 'the petrol station' or 'the pub' when one is referring to places we go for a particular purpose.

  1. Often these places are places we go very often. Many people go to the same petrol station or pub most of the time. For this reason, the listener/reader knows which place is being referred to.
  2. Even if people routinely go to several different petrol stations or pubs, they are going there for a service. (Often this use of the definite article references the place where services are obtained.)

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by CarlosAP87 on Tue, 28/11/2023 - 05:58

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Good morning everyone,

Can anyone help me with this question, please?

It refers to the use of 'the'

1)The Chinese invented paper 2.000 years ago.

2) Marie Curie discovered Polonium and Radium.

Regarding 1), if we are talking about Chinese people in general, why do we use the article 'the'? and in relation to 2), if Polonium and Radium are specific materials, why aren't they preceded by 'the'? Thanks for the help!

Hello CarlosAP87,

1) We use 'the' with adjectives of nationality to form noun phrases. Just as we combine 'the' and the adjective 'Chinese', we also say 'the English', 'the Spanish' (though we also have the word 'Spaniards', but this is not the case for most nationalities), 'the Australians', etc.

In 2), if we were talking about a specific piece of Polonium and a specific piece of Radium, then we would use 'the'. But this sentence is talking about all the pieces of these elements in the world, so from that perspective, they are general.

By the way, you might find our Probability page, which also covers this grammar, useful as a second resource.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

 

Submitted by Selet on Fri, 20/10/2023 - 15:12

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Is "the" used in the names of stadiums? For example.
Etihad or the Etihad
Wembley or the Wembley
White Hart Lane or the White Hart Lane
Old Trafford or the Old Trafford
Stamford Bridge or the Stamford Bridge
London stadium or the London stadium, and so on.
What about foreign stadiums? How do you determine them, including "the" or not?

Hi Selet,

"The" is used with some stadium names and not with others. Here are some patterns.

  • "The" tends to be used when the name is made of "stadium" (or similar word), with a description before it, e.g. the London Stadium, the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the Olympic Stadium. This includes stadiums with corporate sponsored names, e.g. the Etihad Stadium, the Emirates Stadium, the Allianz Arena. People commonly omit the word stadium in this case and just call them The Etihad (etc.).
  • Many stadiums in the UK have the same name as the place where they are built, e.g. Anfield, White Hart Lane, Wembley, Old Trafford. These names don't include "stadium" or "the".
  • Some stadium names, especially in the US, are made of some form of the team's name, plus "stadium", e.g. Dodger Stadium, Giants Stadium. These don't include "the".
  • Some stadium names use "the" because the name in their original language also uses a definite article, e.g. the Camp Nou / the Nou Camp, the Maracanã.

Those are some general patterns that I can see. But we can probably find examples of stadium names that do not follow these patterns, especially if we look at examples from around the world because usage of English naturally varies from place to place.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Thanks for the brilliant explanation, Jonathan. Why is "the" usually used with "bus", "police", "cinema" or "pub?" I'm a bit confused.

I'm waiting for the bus.
We should tell the police.
I'm going to the cinema/the pub.

Hello Selet,

As the explanation above mentions, we often use 'the' with services. The police and the bus are usually public services, and cinemas and pubs are usually open to any person. This is what the explanation refers to as 'services'.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by DoraX on Mon, 07/08/2023 - 12:36

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Hello LearnEnglish team,
Iwould like to ask which of the following sentences are correct when we talk about general preferences.
"Cats are wonderful animals."
"A cat is a wonderful animal."
"The cat is a wonderful animal."
"The cats are wonderful animals."
Thank you in advance.

Hello DoraX,

1, 2 and 3 are all about cats in general. 4 is about some specific cats that have already been mentioned in some way.

1 and 3 are the best ones to use to make general statements about cats. 1 is the one we most commonly use.

If you read back in the comments, you'll find some questions and answers that might be really useful for understanding more about this topic.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Hello dear team,

I wrote a question around 10 days ago and did not get an answer.

Ali was not at the meeting, nor was he at work yesterday.

Is "nor" connecting two independent sentences?

Thank you  

Submitted by y.mari on Fri, 04/08/2023 - 01:08

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Why do we use 'the' when with 'beach,' like, "I love going to the beach."?

Hi y.mari,

If we say "I love going to the beach", it has one of these meanings.

  • I mean the general idea (= any beach). I'm not talking about one specific beach.
  • In this area, there is only one beach.
  • Earlier in the conversation, I have already said which beach I am talking about.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Sun, 23/07/2023 - 16:08

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Hello respected team,
I normally see friends most days of "the" week.
Why "the" is used with week?
Thank you

Hi Hosseinpour,

It's not talking about any particular week. It's a more general idea of "any week".

It's a bit like the meaning of "the" in I can play the piano - this isn't talking about a particular piano, but the more general idea of any piano.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Wed, 12/07/2023 - 09:39

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Hello dear team,
Although is a conjunction used to contrast one thing in a sentence.
1. Although you are in the middle of the city, you feel as if you are in the
countryside. |2. The windmill is still in good working order, although it has not been used since the 1950s. 3. I enjoyed German although I wasn’t very good at it. 4. Although lack of sleep causes some problems, it has a relatively small effect on performance at work.
Could you kindly tell me what is contrasted or compared in these sentences.
Thank you

Hi Hosseinpour,

I'll highlight the contrasting information in bold.

  1. Although you are in the middle of the city, you feel as if you are in the countryside.
  2. The windmill is still in good working order, although it has not been used since the 1950s.
  3. I enjoyed German although I wasn’t very good at it.
  4. Although lack of sleep causes some problems, it has a relatively small effect on performance at work.

The contrast shows some kind of opposition (e.g. 'enjoyed' = positive; 'wasn't very good at it' = negative), or that one fact makes the other one seem surprising or unexpected.

I hope that helps. If you have more questions about this, we welcome you to post them on our page for Contrasting ideas: 'although', 'despite' and others (linked) instead of here, so that we can keep the on-page discussions focused. Thanks :)

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Mon, 10/07/2023 - 07:40

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Hello respected team,
Another reason for this problem is a poor diet, which is mainly caused by the abundance of fast food on offer.
Why a "comma" is used before "which"?
Thank you

Hi Hosseinpour,

This is a non-defining relative clause. The main idea of the sentence is that "a poor diet" is the reason for the problem. The relative clause gives extra information about the cause of the poor diet ("the abundance of fast food"), but it is separated by the comma. This shows that the speaker/writer considers it extra and non-essential information, and the main idea is simply "a poor diet". 

Other people may choose to say/write it without a comma: Another reason for this problem is a poor diet which is mainly caused by the abundance of fast food on offer. This is a defining relative clause. In this version, the speaker/writer considers both "a poor diet" and the cause of it ("abundance of fast food") to be the main idea. Therefore, the main idea in this version of the sentence is more detailed.

You may like to see these Grammar pages for more information and examples.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Gendeng on Sun, 02/07/2023 - 20:03

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This page says "the" is used 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.

My question: which train/radio/police is the speaker talking about. As a listener, we don't know train/police to which the speaker refers.

Hi Gendeng,

It doesn't refer to a particular train, radio station, police force or officer. It has a more generalised and abstract meaning of the whole system or service. For example, "the radio" means the entire radio system. You can therefore say "I heard it on the radio" no matter which radio station or channel you were listening to.

If it is important for the speaker to identify the particular radio station/channel, they would probably make a more specific statement, something like "I heard it on City Radio" (for example) instead.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Thankns, Jonathan. I'm going to the shops, the pub, the bank, the mall, the beach, the mountains, the park, etc. Why use "the" the places? Although the person who I'm talking to doesn't know which, is "the" alsways used for these places?

Hi Gendeng,

There are two possible meanings.

  1. The speaker expects the listener to understand which one he/she is referring to, based on contextual knowledge. For example, if I say "I'm going to the bank", it may mean that there is only one bank in the local area, or there is a bank that I always go to, and it's therefore clear which bank I mean.
  2. The speaker is referring to the thing at a more abstract level, "the bank" as a general idea rather than any particular bank. The speaker might say this if they don't feel it's necessary to identify the specific bank that they're going to.

For these meanings, "the" is always used.

If you want to identify the particular thing, the name can be used instead (e.g. "I'm going to City Bank") or additional description can be added ("I'm going to the bank on High Street").

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by DoraX on Mon, 26/06/2023 - 16:31

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Thanks for the explanation and the link you provided.

Submitted by DoraX on Mon, 26/06/2023 - 14:50

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Hello dear team,
Why in the following sentence, taken from an exercise, the definite article before "time" is omitted? "I don't like hotels very much, but I didn't have time to rent an apartment." What is the rule? Is it a fixed phrase with time?

Hello DoraX,

I'd call it a fixed phrase. When we talk about not having enough time, we don't use 'the'. In fact, there are many expressions that feature 'time' without 'the' -- if you follow the link, you can see lots of example sentences.

Note that it is possible to say 'the time' -- the sentences that have this on that page typically refer to a specific hour in the day.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

I have a question, I know we normally say "French food", "Japanese food", or American food". Do we say "The Japanese Food" or The French Food"? For example "I want to learn how to cook the French food"

Hello kw002,

We do not use 'the' here as you are still talking in general terms. You would only use 'the' if you specified an identifiable sub-category of French food. For example:

I want to learn to cook the French food of the nineteenth century.

I want to learn to cook the French food of the mountain regions.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by praveen99 on Tue, 13/06/2023 - 10:27

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We do not use article'The' in states name . But there is an exception . Why do we write 'The Punjab' instead of Punjab

Hello praveen99,

I'm not completely sure, but I believe it's because of the etymology of the name 'panjab', which, as perhaps you know, means something like '[the land of] the five waters'. Since it refers to several parts that are somehow unified -- similar to the way 'the United States' refers to 50 states or 'the Netherlands' refers to several lowlands -- we use 'the'.

I'm not an expert on etymology or the Panjab, but this is how I understand it. I hope this helps you.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Hello praveen99,

If you mean a source for the etymology, I'd suggest looking in a few sources such as the Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

If you mean a source that can verify my idea that 'the Panjab' is like 'the Netherlands' in terms of why we put 'the' before it, I'm afraid I'm not familiar with one. Perhaps one is out there, but I'm afraid you'll have to try to find it yourself.

It's also possible that this use of 'the' comes from an Indian language or from some Indian custom rather than English, though I know nothing about that.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by dotty1977 on Fri, 09/06/2023 - 08:37

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Hello,

As a native speaker, would you say :
I like the Summer or I like summers ?

thanks in advance

Hello dotty1977,

Both are fine, though I think I'd probably say 'the summer'.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Aona on Thu, 25/05/2023 - 12:23

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Hello! :)

Please let me know which sentence is correct and why.

Aborigines are the people native to Australia.

Or

Aborigines are the people native to Australia.

Thank you sooo much.

Submitted by o.zandecka on Wed, 17/05/2023 - 10:21

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Hello,

I have an IT related question. If we're talking about a table name in a database in a document, and we mention its name, for example "Table XYZ is used to store extracted context information". Does the rule for mentioning something for the first time (so no article just table name) apply? Or should we actually use "the" because we mean this specific table?

Hi o.zandecka,

If you refer to the table by its particular name (e.g. Table XYZ), it should always be without "the". It doesn't matter whether this is the first time it is mentioned, or not the first time.

However, if you have already mentioned the table's name, you can then say "the table" to refer to it (but not "the table XYZ"). 

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by lien.t on Tue, 16/05/2023 - 08:12

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Hello teachers,
I don't really understand this sentence in the practice :France's highest mountain is Mont Blanc (4,810m) and its longest river is the Loire (1,012km). Why Mont Blanc doesn't have "the" but Loire has "the"? both Mont Blanc and Loire is the only one in the world, and if saying as geographical features we should use "the" for both of them? can you explain this? thank you a lot!

Hi lien.t,

We do use "the" when there is only one of something, and this is true for many words (e.g. the moon). But this is only a general pattern. It's not true of all things of which there is only one. "The" is not used with Mont Blanc, Japan, and William Shakespeare, for example, as these also belong to other categories (mountain; country; person) which have their own patterns for using "the".

We don't usually use "the" with the names of particular mountains (e.g. Mont Blanc, Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro) but we do usually use "the" with mountain ranges, i.e. chains of mountains (e.g. the Himalayas, the Rocky Mountains). 

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hello Mr Jonathan,
thank you very much. I understood for Mont Blanc now.

But how about "the Loire" ?, why we use "the" with this river, as per my understanding "Loire" is a particular name too - same as "Mont Blanc" isn't it?
Or because "Mont Blanc" has their meaning in French, means white mountain, so it's kind of more general than "Loire"?
thanks for your explanation.

Hello lien.t,

The use of definite articles with place names isn't completely regular. In general, we always use 'the' with rivers, which is why we say 'the Loire', 'the Mekong', 'the Po', 'the Mississippi', etc. There might be some exception to this, but I can't think of one off the top of my head. It might help to think that we often use 'the' when referring to bodies of water -- we say 'the Atlantic', 'the Seine', etc.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team