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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 Bronia,
I think you should be able to find the answer on this page. Let us know if you have any other questions.
Best wishes,
Adam
The LearnEnglish Team
 

Hie there, thanks for this site first of all, I want to be sure which is which when it comes to the use of indefinite articles, I have heard some people using the article an followed by a name which starts by H,example to say an Hospital, am not sure if there are exceptions in the use of this article.Thanks!

can you tell me benefits of Enlish Language in Education, Profession & Social???

Hi there,
According to my teacher this sentence is correct:
Before I went to the supermarket, I decided to pay a visit to my colleague Anne, who is in hospital.
With the rule that it's the supermarket that I went to, so it's specific. But hospital does not get an definite article because it's an institution and the use of the building is meant. 
Please help, I really don't get it...
Because I would normally write:
Before I went to the supermarket, I decided to pay a visit to my colleague Anne, who is in the hospital.
Thanks in advance
Natascha

Hi Natascha,
Articles can be very difficult for learners to understand. One important thing to understand is that we choose which article to use to communicate an idea, not as a requirement of the situation. (This is also true about verb forms.) So I can say 'I talked to the secretary during a meeting' or 'I talked to a secretary during the meeting' and they are both perfect English sentences, just with different meanings.
We can also say both 'in hospital' or 'in the hospital' and be using good English, but the meaning changes slightly. When you say that Anne is in hospital, you mean that she is sick and so has to stay there. The focus is on her situation. When you say that Anne is in the hospital, you are talking about one specific hospital that both you and the person you are speaking to know about. The focus is more on the hospital, so it's less common than saying 'in hospital', but it's not wrong.
I hope that helps!
Best wishes,
Adam
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Adam and Jeremy,
I don´t understand the difference between these two rules for indefinite and definite articles. Could you explain it to me, please? Thank you very much.
Have a nice day!
Janele
Indefinite article
5. We use a/an with a singular noun to say something about all things of that kind:
A man needs friends. (= All men need friends)
A dog likes to eat meat. (= All dogs like to eat meat)
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)

Hello JaneleS!
 
Don't worry - you're not alone! Articles often cause learners problems, especially this use of them. if you look through the comments, you'll find several learners with the same question, and several answers from the LearnEnglish Team. you could start with my reply to Nour3.
 
Regards
 
Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team
 
 

I have a doubt with the use of "the", in the following sentence:
The evaluation of all the information available to the Council...
Or it is better to say:
The evaluation of all information available to the Council...
 
Thank you very much
 
 

Hello Rufus!
 
Lots of people find 'the' difficult! In this case, the first sentence is probably better.

Regards
 
Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team

Can we not say that I am playing a guitar,coz i am not being specific here..I can play any guitar.

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