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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

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

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The definite article with names 2

 GapFillTyping_MTU3MDg=

The definite article with names 3

GapFillTyping_MTU3MDk=

The definite article with names 4

GapFillTyping_MTU3MTA=

 

Comments

Hello again,

In the section about relative pronouns I wrote this question. But Peter M recommend me write it again in this section:

I have a question. I was viewing the sentence:

This is George’s brother, with whom I went to school.

But, I'm really confused. I don't know why it isn't:

This is George’s brother, with whom I went to the school.

Is it a incorrect sentence?

Thanks

Hello wilson2103,

Thank you for re-posting the question - it will be useful for others who are studying article use to see it on this page.

The answer to your question is that we use no article (or, if you prefer, the zero article) for certain public institutions when we go there for the purpose for which the institution exists.  These include schools, universties, courts, prisons, hospitals, colleges.  We can use the definite article with these institutions but it changes the meaning.  For example:

I went to prison. [= I am a criminal]

I went to the prison. [= I am visiting or working there]

I went to hospital. [= I am a patient]

I went to the hospital. [I am visiting or working there]

I went to university. [= I was a student]

I went to the university. [= I went there to see something, to visit someone, or as a tourist]

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Wikipedia shows "The Massachusetts Institute of Technology..." at the beginning. But the rest of the writing describes the institute as "Massachusetts Institute of Technology" without the definite article. Is it allowed to use "The" article for the proper noun when we introduce the proper noun first time in writing? Or the Wikipedia writing has made a mistake?
Please go to the Wikipedia internet site to verify and commnet on my question.

Best wishes,
jsoolee

Your comments will be appreciated very much!!!

Best wishes...

Hello jsoolee,

There are probably exceptions to this, but in general, when universities are referred to by an acronym (e.g. MIT, LSE, UCLA), no definite article is used. In the wikipedia entry you refer to, the is indeed used at the beginning of the first sentence, though it could have been left out. If you compare it with the wikipedia entry for Athlone Institute of Technology, you'll see an example of a similar sentence without the.

I hope this helps you!

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello everyone,
 suppose I am the content curator of a brand new social network and that I'm writing the content of the emails that users receive during their enrollment.
Which is the correct form between the two sentences below:
1. Your account has been created. Click on the following link to complete registration: www.example.com/enrollment;
2. Your account has been created. Click on the following link to complete THE registration: www.example.com/enrollment.
I feel the first is the correct one but I can't understand why and, of course, I'm not sure of this!
Please, could you give me some explanation?
Thank you very much,
Daniele

Hello Daniele,

The first sentence is indeed the correct version.  In fact, both versions are possible but have different meanings and the first is the more natural version to my ear.  In the first version you are talking about registration as a process, not as a specific instance; in the second, you are talking about one specific instance of registering (you could also say 'complete your registration' with a similar meaning).  There is no real reason why the first is more natural than the second, but it is the more common - that is to say, it is the version which most people would use.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

realy Britin is great

Hi Peter
Thanks.
That was an interesting explanation. Now I feel like spending more time on the pages in your website to improve my language skills.
Thanks and Regards
Veeraraghavan

Hi Peter
Thanks. That was a nice reply.
Suppose I write " the man in the red shirt from the Netherlands" it means that in the first two instances i.e. 'the man' and 'the red shirt' we use 'the' for recognition by the speaker and listener and we use the third 'the' before Netherlands because of the basic rule (or is it convention?) for using 'the' before names of countries which end in 's'. 
Is my understanding OK?
Thanks and Regards
Veeraraghavan

Hi veeraraghavan,

That's a good explanation of that example, yes.  I'd point out one other thing about that particular example which is quite interesting: that the sentence could mean two things (i.e. it is ambiguous in meaning).  Specifically:

1) The sentence could mean that the man is from the Netherlands and is in a red shirt.

2) The sentence could mean that the man's shirt is from the Netherlands, but he may be from any country.

Can you see why this is so?  If you can, I think it suggests you've got a pretty good grasp of the role of the definite article in the sentence!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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