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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


The definite article the 2


The definite article the 3



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


The definite article with names 2


The definite article with names 3


The definite article with names 4




Dear Team,
Sarah is a daughter of Harley.
Sarah is the daughter of Harley.
1)What's the difference?
There is a boy whose name is John.
There is the boy whose name is John.
Which is the correct one and why?
She's got a brighter future ahead of her.
(Since I've seen many learning sites use future with 'the' when the word 'future' is considered as a noun)
Should I use 'a' or 'the'
3)Is there any kind of ' Speakers' perspectives" in the uses of Articles?In other words, a situation that some may use 'a' but some may use 'the'.
If there, give an example.
Thanks You,
I'd be clearer than ever in the uses of articles, if you answered all my questions.

Dear Team,
Imagine I were in a situation that I meet a man whose doesn't know anything about me and I want to talk about my house.
Should I say
1) I live in a small house near a beach.
2) I live in a small house near the beach.
And why?
It said we use the with all the things referred to by a noun.
1) A teacher must be good at teacher.
Is that right and why?
I don't understand " there is only one in that content"
I think all the examples are known both the listener and speaker.
Could you give me more examples to clarify?
Thanks a million.

Hello DaniWeebKage,

Both sentences are possible but I think the most likely sentence is the second: ...near the beach. Certain geographical features tend to have the definite article before them in contexts like this, including by the lake, by the river, on the coast, near the beach, in the mountains and others.

In these examples we are not describing a particular beach (coast etc) but rather referring to the concept of beach. In other words we are telling the listener about the kind of location in which the house stands rather than describing a particular beach.


Your second sentence is not correct. The sentence should be:

A teacher must be good at teaching.

The indefinite article is used because you are talking about any teacher, not a particular teacher. You could also use a plural form without an article (Teachers must...). This would refer to all teachers.


'...there is only one in that context' means that the context limits the possible choices.

When there is a unique item in the world we use 'the': the Olympic marathon champion, the Pope, the President of France etc.

If we limit the context then we can create a unique item within that context: the dog in my garden, the lamp on my table etc.



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear team,
The term "Asian" is widely used for those individuals who have ethnic ties to Asia, (of which) include the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian sub-continent.
What is the reason that we can not use (of which) and we should use (which) in here?
I always mix up these two, could you kindly suggest a book or site that explains these sort of things. I need to study.
Thank you

Hi Hosseinpour,

It's because which (substituting for Asia) is the subject of the relative clause, i.e.:

  • Asia includes the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian sub-continent.

Use of which (or another preposition + which) if Asia is neither the subject nor the object of the relative clause. In other words, to use of which, the relative clause must specify a new subject (i.e., not Asia; in the example below, it is 'we'):

  • The term "Asian" is widely used for those individuals who have ethnic ties to Asia, of which we can include the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian sub-continent. (subject = we; object = the Far East ... sub-continent).

You might find this page from the Cambridge Dictionary useful. See especially the 'which + prepositions' section, and other '+ prepositions' sections.

It would also be great if you can try to post questions on relevant pages. This question would be perfect for our Non-defining relative clauses page, for example. Thanks :)


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Jonathan R,
Thank you sir a lot for the time and help.

Sir, does "there" here means "that"?

There's the girl who works with my sister.

Hello Jembut,

'There' in this sentence is used to draw another person's attention to something that they may not have noticed. It's difference from 'that' or 'this', which refer to things already seen or noticed.



The LearnEnglish Team

Respected team,
Were America and Europe to surprise sceptics and agree a sort of common market across the Atlantic.
1. past to be+ subject+ to+ verb
What is the meaning of the above-mentioned sentence?
(Were America and Europe to surprise) does this mean Are going to? or Were going to?
Could you kindly explain when and how we can use this structure?
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

Without knowing the context in which this appears it is very hard to say. It looks like it may be part of an incomplete hypothetical construction as you can use inversion in place of if in sentences like this:

If America and Europe were to surprise sceptics and agree a sort of common market across the Atlantic, then...

Were America and Europe to surprise sceptics and agree a sort of common market across the Atlantic, then...



The LearnEnglish Team