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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

Hello,
I am wondering about this case:
"In Appendix A" or "in the Appendix A"?
There is only one, but I wouldn't say "In the Section 2.3".
Thank you for advice!

Hello rikki,
We would say 'in Appendix A', just as we would say 'in Chapter One' and 'in Part One'.  We treat these as names and so do not add a definite article.  For other parts of a book we do add definite articles: 'the introduction', 'the preface', 'the index', 'the glossary' etc.  We also use a definite article if we use 'appendix' or 'chapter' on its own: 'Did you find it in the appendix?'
 
I hope that clarifies it for you.
Best wishes,
 
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi. I just want to know now how we use "the" with a defined subject.
For instance:
- the Decree No. 123/2007 of the Government, or just Decree No. 123/2007?
- the District 1 or just District 1?
If you could reply soon, it will be very appreciated. Thanks a lot.

Hi thanhhuyen123,
Both of those examples sound more natural to me without an article because we treat 'Decree No. XXXXX' and 'District 1' as names.  Another example would be 'law'.  For example:
'He broke the law against littering.' [a specific and defined law]
but
'He broke law 35b against littering.' [the name of a given law]
 
Best wishes,
 
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

sir I have a query regarding to th following example.
Look at the boy in the blue shirt.
I am not clear about using second 'the' in this example.
Thanks.

Hello aavi,
We use 'the' when both speaker and listener know which object is being talked about, so here we can be sure that the speaker knows that the listener understands which blue shirt he or she means.  This may be because the there is only one blue shirt visible, or because it is obvious which blue shirt is being talked about (only one is close, for example, or the speaker is pointing to it, or it has been talked about before).
I hope that clarifies it for you.
Best wishes,
 
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team 

Please, can you tell me if there are any particular rules for using articles with military ranks? I encountered the following in Maugham's stories:
He was general of the rebellious troops. (why not 'the general'?)
...he would be minister of war (why not 'the Minister of war'?)
Thank you very much in advance!

Hello lazy-cow,
Those are quite unusual examples and I would use an article in each sentence, personally.  However, high ranks can be used as titles, so the new royal baby, for example, is called 'His Royal Highness Prince of Cambridge' (not 'the Prince of Cambridge').  My best guess at why there are no articles in the examples you provide is that Maugham was treating the ranks as titles in a similar way.
Thank you for an interesting question!
Best wishes,
 
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,
I'd like to know when I use the article "the" after "before" and "after".
Ex. I do my homework before lunch.
I do my homework after classes (or after the class)?
Thanks

Hello Ana_olivia,
In your example sentences we would say:
I do my homework before lunch (no article)
and
I do my homework after class / after classes (no article)
 
However, when we use 'the' doesn't depend on the words 'before' or 'after', it simply follows the normal rules - which you can find here.
I hope that answers your question.
Best wishes,
 
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

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