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 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=

 

Take your language skills and your career to the next level
Get unlimited access to our self-study courses for only £5.99/month.

Hello Royanabiyeva,

It's true that in the past, 'the' was often used with some of the other place names in your list, but as far as I know, the only one of the places where 'the' is used by most people these days is 'the Hague'. I expect you could find exceptions to what I've just said, however. I'd suggest you check an encyclopedia as an example of correct use.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ahrene on Wed, 21/10/2020 - 04:55

Permalink
Hi. I'm really appreciated your content. By the way, I have a question. 1. Let's go to the beach. -> In this sentence, do people know which beach it is? If it's not an exact beach, Can I use a beach? 2. I love August ; I go to the beach with Danny. -> If I just like going beach, Can I use a beach?? It's so confusing.. :(

Submitted by ahrene on Thu, 22/10/2020 - 00:25

In reply to by ahrene

Permalink
Please answer my question.

Hi ahrene,

There are two possible meanings of the beach here.

  1. It's a particular beach, and people know which one the speaker means (as you correctly mentioned). For example, maybe the speakers go regularly to one particular beach, or there is only one beach in the local area.
  2. It has a generic meaning. The beach represents the whole class of beaches (i.e., all beaches or any beach). This is similar to the "to say something about all the things referred to by a noun" in the explanation above. In this case, the speaker doesn't indicate a particular beach. This may be because the speaker has no preference (any beach is OK). Or, maybe the speaker just wants to check the listener's general feeling about the beach first, and intends to discuss details of the beach trip later in the conversation.

Yes! It's also possible to say a beach here too in both your sentences, meaning 'any beach' and not a particular beach.

Does that make sense? There are a lot of options :)

We answer questions as soon as we can, but at busy times it may take us a little more time!

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kunthea on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 09:30

Permalink
The article the with families like 'the Obamas'. Could you tell me it is wrong when I write the Obama's (with the apostrophe)? Thanks a lot.

Hello Kunthea,

Since 'the Obamas' refers to more than one person, the apostrophe should go after the 's': 'the Obamas' house'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Kirk! You know one of my teachers explained that this sentence is correct: 'The Sok's has moved to Japan for ten years.' Is this sentence correct? Why or why not? one more thing, he gave me an example about the definite article 'the' + noun to talk about noun in general: 'The vegetable is full of chemicals.' And he said that the word 'vegetable' is uncountable noun, a collective noun. Besides, he said the article 'the' cannot be used with uncountable noun when we talk about noun in general. And then he told me that 'The vegetable' is an exception, which we can use to talk about things in general. Please help me clarify this doubt. I'm so confused with what he said. All the best, Kunthea

Hello Kunthea,

I'm not familiar enough with 'Sok's' to be able to say for sure. It sounds a little odd to me, but it could well be correct.

I'd say that the sentence 'The vegetable is full of chemicals' falls under the category of saying something about all the things referred to by a noun that is mentioned above.

It's not wrong to say that, but 99% of the time, we say 'Vegetables' instead of 'The vegetable'. I can't think of a time I've ever used 'the' in that way. It's something you might hear in a very old documentary, but otherwise it's quite rare.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much Kirk! I've learned a lot from LearnEnglish of the British Council.

Submitted by Sourav Bhatia on Fri, 16/10/2020 - 17:16

Permalink
can you explain use of the in following sentence There is no doubt that education and the learning process has changed since the introduction of computers

Hello Sourav Bhatia,

 

There is no definite article before education as it is an abstract noun.

 

The definite article is used before learning process and introduction as these are defined/specified nouns:

the learning process = the process of learning; it is a specific process

the introduction of computers = the introduction of a specific thing (computers)

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by CHÉKYTAN on Fri, 02/10/2020 - 08:22

Permalink
Do we use 'the' in front of United Arab Emirates?

Submitted by Sourav Bhatia on Sun, 27/09/2020 - 16:27

Permalink
May you explain use of the in following sentence. With regards to individuals, the impact that online social media has had on each individual person has clear advantages.

Hello Sourav Bhatia,

I'd need to see the full text before and after the sentence to be sure, but I expect that here the different impacts of social media have been discussed, and so this impact has already been mentioned.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sourav Bhatia on Sun, 27/09/2020 - 14:56

Permalink
why we use the with academic curriculum.

Hello Sourav Bhatia,

It's also possible to use other determiners such as 'an academic curriculum', 'their academic curriculum' and others. As in most cases, we use 'the' when we think the noun phrase has already been mentioned.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team 

Submitted by lexeus on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 19:59

Permalink
Hi Team, Sometimes we pronounce the article 'the' as 'thee' depending on the word that follows it. For example, 'the Island' or 'the administrator', etc. Is there a rule for when to use this? I thought that maybe it was something to do with vowel sounds, but I don't think that is the case. Could you tell me what the rule is? Thanks for your help, Lexeus.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 27/09/2020 - 09:00

In reply to by lexeus

Permalink

Hi lexeus,

You are correct in saying that the pronunciation of the is dependent on vowel sounds. When the next word begins with a vowel sound, the is pronounced to rhyme with 'three'.

The thing to remember is that sometimes a vowel (letter) may not represent a vowel sound. This is why we say 'a university' and 'a union', for example, where the initial sound is /j/ as in 'you' or 'yellow' even though the letter is a vowel.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Monse2509 on Sun, 13/09/2020 - 23:12

Permalink
Hi, what about the body parts? Definite or indefinite articles for example Arm, cheek, leg, back

Hello Monse2509,

The use of articles with body parts is no different from the use of articles with any nouns. If you are referring to a unique example then 'the' is used; if you are talking about any example then 'a' is more likely; if you are speaking in general then no article and a plural form is most likely:

You have a big nose. [there are many big noses; yours is one]

You have the biggest nose in the world! [this is a unique nose]

Big noses are beautiful. [talking about big noses in general]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vijaya on Fri, 11/09/2020 - 18:02

Permalink
1.Deer is a timid creature. 2.The Deer is a timid creature. 3.Giraffe is the tallest animal. Please explain and justify the use of the definite article 'the' in sentence 2 and 3 and whether sentence 1 is correct.

Hello Vijaya,

In 2, 'the' is used in the way explained above:

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.)

In 3, 'the' is used as part of a superlative adjective ('the tallest', 'the best', 'the most expensive', etc.).

I'm afraid that 1 and 3 are not correct -- in standard British English, it's not correct to begin such a sentence with a singular noun and no determiner. You could begin with 'the' (as in 2) or more commonly a plural form is used -- for example, 'Giraffes are the tallest animals.'

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rita Laranjeira on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 13:02

Permalink
Hi! Should we say 'develop management' or 'develop the management'? Meaning as a government strategy to strengthen (the) management capability and leverage performance? Thanks

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 16:13

In reply to by Rita Laranjeira

Permalink

Hello Rita Laranjeira,

I'm afraid I'd need to see the full context to be able to say for sure. You're welcome to send us this is you'd like.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Fiona on Thu, 03/09/2020 - 01:41

Permalink
Is “the best books” a wrong expression, since “the” suggests that there is only one?

Hello Fiona,

It's quite possible to use 'the' with plural nouns:

These five books are the best ones I've ever read.

I answered the three emails we got yesterday.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Fiona on Sun, 30/08/2020 - 11:40

Permalink
Hello, thanks for the lesson. It’s helpful. May I ask why we say ‘the First World War’, instead of ‘First World War’; ‘the second floor’, instead of ‘second floor’? Does that fall into the category of “it’s the only one”?

Submitted by karentrewinnard on Thu, 27/08/2020 - 08:51

Permalink
When we abbreviate an organisation's name do we leave off the definite article? Eg: the Princess Fund. Is it TPF or PF

Hi karentrewinnard,

We usually leave the out of the abbreviation. For example, we say The BBC and The UN.

I think this is just a convention, not a rule. So, there might be some abbreviations which do abbreviate the - but I can't think of any examples at the moment.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Avianna on Tue, 25/08/2020 - 10:00

Permalink
Hello, we don't use article "the" with the name of bridges but there are some that are used with "the". Do we use "the" with Golden Gate bridge?

Hello Avianna,

Yes, we usually say the Golden Gate Bridge.

Most bridges are treated as pI don't think there is a rule here. You just need to learn which bridges have no article and which take the definite article.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dvdmrn on Mon, 24/08/2020 - 02:43

Permalink
Regarding the "French Guiana" question, is it necessarily wrong to say "the French Guiana"? Since you might be using the article to specify which of the Guianas.

Hello dvdmrn,

I've never heard it described as anything other than French Guiana (no article), so I think adding 'the' would not sound natural.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by clintoncerejo on Fri, 14/08/2020 - 05:27

Permalink
Hi. I have a question regarding the pronunciation of ‘the’ as ‘thee’ before a noun beginning with a vowel or having a vowel sound. Such as ‘thee edition’ as opposed to ‘the edition’. Is this pronunciation of ‘the’ as ‘thee’ before a vowel, compulsory or is it a suggestion? I couldn’t find any official reference suggesting that this pronunciation is in fact mandatory. Sure, it’s widely used and accepted as correct, but is it grammatically incorrect to say ‘the old man’ instead of ‘thee old man’. ? Would that be wrong English if I chose to say ‘the’ instead of ‘thee’ in that scenario ?

Submitted by Jonathan R on Fri, 14/08/2020 - 14:11

In reply to by clintoncerejo

Permalink

Hi clintoncerejo,

No, it wouldn't be grammatically wrong. But it might (or might not) be considered a pronunciation error. Using the longer vowel sound (e.g. 'thee edition') is a feature of standard pronunciation, at least in British English, so it's normal and expected from that point of view. 

But at the same time, many speakers (including myself) don't always follow the standard, and there is a lot of variation in pronunciation. So, I'm afraid I don't have a simple answer.

Unless you need to take a pronunciation test, I would say that if your words can be clearly understood by a listener, you can say either 'the' or 'thee'.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Thu, 13/08/2020 - 22:38

Permalink
(Thank you, sir, for your such advanced reply.) Then, Can I conclude that 'the' in front of an uncountable noun is optional even when the object it refers is unique?

If the uncountable noun is abstract (not concrete), and the intended meaning is general (not specific), then the is often omitted.

  • We hope that delivery next month will not cause you serious inconvenience.

Here, I understand delivery as an abstract and general thing, not as a specific instance of delivery (even though the context is about a specific customer order). If we want to make it more specific, we could say:

  • We hope that the delivery of this order next month will not cause you serious inconvenience.

This is much more clearly about a specific delivery, not delivery in general, so the is used. But I do think the first version would be the more common way to say it.

Two more examples:

  • Friendship is valuable.
  • The friendship we have is valuable.

So, it's not really optional, but dependent on the situation. It's hard to give rules about this, since much depends on what level of specificity is expected in the particular situation. A good way to build up a sense for this is by noting more examples with and without the that you find, as you've done here.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Wed, 12/08/2020 - 22:58

Permalink
"We are sorry your order cannot be sent immediately. But we hope that [delivery] at the beginning of next month will not cause you serious inconvenience." About the 'delivery', does this sentence implies that this company will make more than 'one' delivery at the beginning of next month, because the article 'the' isn't used in front of the 'delivery'?

Hi Kim Hui-jeong,

I understand delivery in an uncountable sense in this example. So, although it's possible the company may make more than one delivery, the sentence meaning isn't specific about that.

If the company wants to emphasise that it will only make a single delivery, it's possible to say a delivery. But I think the uncountable version would be the more usual way to say it.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mordhvaj on Tue, 11/08/2020 - 09:57

Permalink
I know the English language. Could you please explain why article 'the' has been used in the above sentence as we do not use 'the' before the names of languages?

Hello Mordhvaj,

When we use the name of the language there is no article, as you say:

I speak English and French.

The book was translated into Farsi last year.

 

However, in your example 'English' is not a noun, but an adjective. The noun is 'language' and the article is used before it because we specify which language we are talking about - the English language.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mordhvaj,

When we use the name of the language there is no article, as you say:

I speak English and French.

The book was translated into Farsi last year.

 

However, in your example 'English' is not a noun, but an adjective. The noun is 'language' and the article is used before it because we specify which language we are talking about - the English language.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mordhvaj on Wed, 29/07/2020 - 10:46

Permalink
We travelled by a car. (means of transport) Could you please tell me the reason why the indefinite article 'a' is grammatically incorrect in the above sentence?

Hello Mordhvaj,

When we use 'by' + a mode of transport, in general, no article is used. As far as I know this is due to convention -- in other words, it's just what people say.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Robert Darling on Mon, 27/07/2020 - 15:47

Permalink
I just found this in the OED: The differential calculus is often spoken of as ‘the calculus’.

Submitted by Robert Darling on Mon, 27/07/2020 - 02:02

Permalink
Why is 'the' used so frequently with calculus, as with 'the infinitesimal calculus'?

Hello Robert Darling,

I'm not at all familiar with this topic, but what I see in the Wikipedia, for example, is 'infinitesimal calculus' (without 'the'). I can try to help you with your question if you could explain the context. Context matters a great deal when we use articles.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I see 'the' used with calculus very frequently in publications of a scholarly nature. Scientists often use 'the calculus', but the guy in the street never seems to. Perhaps it has something to do with the root of calculus, meaning small stone? Here is one sentence I can find quickly: 'Newton invented the infinitesimal calculus'. Thank you.