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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




Hello Ranko,

It's hard for me to comment on the specifics of one test without having seen it but in general the IELTS test takes into account the context around the gap, which can mean that and answer with an article may be inappropriate. On the British Council's Take IELTS pages ( you can find some specific tips and guidance for this paper:

One of the points listed there, which may be relevant, is this:

"if the question asks you to complete the note ‘in the…’ and the correct answer is ‘morning’, note that ‘in the morning’ would be incorrect; the correct answer is 'morning'"

Check the exact text of the question; perhaps this is the source of the problem. However, as I said, it's not really possible for me to clarify it without looking through the test and the text of the listening myself.

Best wishes and good luck when you take the IELTS for real!

The LearnEnglish Team

Why is it just 'Big Ben' rather than 'the Big Ben', for what the Elizabeth clock tower in London is commonly known?
Thanks :)

Hello tom121,
Although it looks like a description, 'Big Ben' is actually treated as a proper noun (i.e. a name) like London, St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and so, like most proper nouns, has no article.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

I arrived in _ USA yesterday.
I visited the Tower yesterday.
Why is it so? Is it because a particular tower is being referred to in the second case? But while speaking of Netherlands, we don't simply say Netherlands, we say The Netherlands. Has it's name been found in such a way?I would be glad if you could help me out with this right now.

Hi Shameek,
It is not standard English to say "I arrived in USA" - we always say "the USA". If you look under The definite article with names where there are two parts about countries, you'll see the explanation of why we say the Netherlands and the USA.
If you look a few lines below the explanation of the with countries, where it says well known buildings, you'll see the explanation for the Tower, which here presumably refers to the Tower of London.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi! Thanks for this useful site!
I always have doubts when to is or not use the article "the": i recently wrote :
"To all may friends", and few lines afterwards "also to friends from the other months", making a joke about my typing mistake of the first sentence (may instead of my) ..
My doubt is : should I have written "also to my friends from other months" instead?
What a life!

Hi Cri,
Often it's the grammar that is similar, but not identical to, our native language(s) that is the most frustrating. It's great that you have a sense of humour about it!
Both "from the other months" and "from other months" are correct, though for me there is a very slight difference in meaning. To my ear, "from the other months" means from all eleven of the other months and "from other months" just means from any other month. This difference isn't important for what you're writing, but I thought I would mention it to you.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team


I am more than happy to find this useful site which I believe established a good accord with my liking  just within few minutes.I am very much satisfied with the content and guidance and believe I will find solutions to almost all language problems.Great initiative.

Hi,  When talking about group of people using adjectives as rich, poor, elderly, etc the article "the" is used as in the phrase "I think the rich should pay more taxes", does it change when including the group being referred to (people)? See phrases below:
Rich people should pay more taxes vs The rich people should pay more taxes
Which one is the correct phrase.... Thanks

Hi MayelaM,
When talking about the category of people in general, we would say:
'Rich people...'
'The rich...'  
We would not use the definite article with the noun 'people' to talk about this category of people in general.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team