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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

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The definite article the 2

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The definite article the 3

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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

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The definite article with names 2

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The definite article with names 3

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The definite article with names 4

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Comments

Good evening, Sir!

Could you, please, explain me one thing: are constructions "X of Y" with uncountable abstract nouns for X common in English, or do you usually change them for gerundial phrases?

Example ("X of Y"):

Sorry, but discussion of my diet wasn't part of deal.

Example (the gerundial):

Sorry, but discussing my diet wasn't part of deal.

Thank you in advance!

Hello Vsevolod_IV,

Both forms can be used. I think discussing here implies that the speaker is being asked to discuss the topic, while discussion is more neutral and may or may not include the speaker in the discussion.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir,

The following sentence is the first line of an essay. Here there is no definite article before "teaching and learning", even though these words are followed by an of-phrase. I think the of-phrase make them
specific, and the definite article must be there according to the rule that abstract nouns, if qualified by an of-phrase, must have 'the' before them .for eg. Indian music becomes The music of India.

"Teaching and learning of English is gaining importance in every field today thanks to internet".

Please explain.

Hello p t balagopal

You're right, that sentence should begin with 'the'. I'm afraid I can't explain why whoever wrote it did not include it.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir,

Thank you very much for your reply.

I am reviewing some documents for my boss and I noticed a sentence that doesn't sound right to me.

"These statements are prepared on an interim basis and do not include all the adjustments made to the quarterly
financial statements."

My question is if this sentence is correct, or do we say "...include adjustments made..."?

Thanks for your time in responding.

Hello taile77,

It depends. If the statements contain some but not all of the adjustments, then ...include all the adjustments made... is fine.

If, on the other hand, no adjustments are included, then ...include adjustments made... is appropriate.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir,
Why do we use the definite article "The" before the word "British" in this sentence.

The British drink a lot of tea.

Hello Shameer

We use 'the' here because we are speaking about the people of one particular country, nation, or group. There is no other group called 'the British' and so we can assume that the listener knows which group we are referring to.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir,
I have seen in some books that we should never use "The" at the beginning of a general statement.

At the same time, we can use it if the sentence is like below.

The British I know drink a lot of tea.

If you don't mind, could you please clarify it.

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