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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.

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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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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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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,


The LearnEnglish Team

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

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,


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.

Hello sir good afternoon.
I have a doubt regarding one of the question of my exam.
There is a sentence given below-
"She was the best and the wisest girl in the class."
Is it the correct sentence? as I think the sentence should be-
"She was the best and wisest girl in the class."

Hello WantToLearn,

I'd encourage you to speak to your teacher about any questions you have about your exam, as we don't know how you've been taught, what the instructions were, what your teacher's expectations are, etc.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

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!