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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




Why do we use 'the' before the names of dances. For example, the tango. Which 'rule' does this fall under?


Hello Dragonele,
I usually teach my students that we use the definite article with dances and musical instruments.  For example:
Can you play the guitar?
I love the piano.
I'm learning the tango.
She dances the waltz beautifully.
It's a rule of use (a category of words we use with these articles) rather than a conceptual rule (specific vs general and so on).
I hope that clarifies it for you.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi All!
sorry for bothering, I'm just struggling with "Terms of Use" which I'm now working on...
Let us have a DEFINITION of an ARTist: 
"ARTist- a person who has been/ was studying visual ART at any ARTuniversity and who opens an ARTaccount on NPUART's wesbsite."
Question: When describing what ARTists are obliged to do etc., am I allowed to use "the" in front of the singular noun e.g. "The ARTist is obliged to...." ?
=> I guess it could be correct (?) according to the above-mentioned rule:  "to say something about all the things referred to by a noun"
I would be really grateful for any help, because i got really confused about that! :)

Hello zuzapogo,
You're not bothering us at all - we're here to help, after all!
Articles is a difficult area and one that even the most advanced learners often have questions about.  The example you give above ('The artist is obliged to...') is fine, for the reason you give.  Well done - you've understood the rule and your example is correct.
You can find more information on and practice with a range of determiners here (click).
You can find specific information on the definite article here (click).
Good luck!
The LearnEnglish Team

It's really hard to get a grip of articles and I have some troubles with translation for my friend. It's a short text about the city I live in.
Is it correct to say: "The magical XXX" (like London, Vienna, or any other city) or should I rather miss the article out. This phrase is not a part of a sentence. It is a title of a short text encouraging people to visit our city and emphasizing its beauty and air. So I think that the article the is a way of giving people the clue what the article is about.
I will be very grateful fo your suggestions!

Hi brachm,
Articles are a difficult area, it's true.  It sounds like you're very confident with them, however.
I think in this context I would leave out the article.  'Magical ...' sounds more natural, especially as it will be a title and not put into a direct context by anything before or immediately after it.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! A question from an English teacher struggling to explain to her students the use of articles with names of people. We've covered the basic rules with no problems. Then we came across the following examples:
1) "I am the celebrated Mortimer Ellis," he said.
2) The dinner was served by a silent Mrs. Keats.
3) I saw an infuriated Jennifer, who started shouting at me the moment I opened the door.
4) It seemed Walter didn't pay any attention to the tearful Kitty.
Could you please explain the rules of using articles in cases when there is an adjective before the name of the person?
Thank you.

Hello Victoria!

When you have an adjective before a proper noun, in general you should apply the normal article rules.

In 1, Mortimer Ellis is known to be (or believe he is known to be) famous - something that would (in his mind) be shared knowledge. Here we use the.

In 2 and 3, presumably the writer does not know that Mrs. Keats would be silent or that Jenny was angry. This is new information, so they use a. If the writer has laready explained that Keats is always silent or Jenny is always angry, they might have chosen the.
4 is more difficult. However, as usual, once a noun has been introduced, we change to the definite article. Sentence 4 would come after a sentence saying, perhaps, Kitty was crying, so in context, it might read:
Kitty was crying. However, Walter didn't pay any attention to the tearful Kitty.
Hope that helps!
Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi! I am Sayantanee a student reading in class vii. The exercises were of of different kinds but I have enjoyed it.

I am an English teacher and I am having trouble explaining to my students why they should not use the definite article when discussing "society". Eg. Society's response to this anti-social behaviour...