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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




Salve Helen AA!

Many thanks for you to give me your kind explanation.

Your friendly teaching gratifies almost all of my curiosities.

The phrase 'half of Americans surveyed', however, is still remains unsolved to me. As far as I know, if the word 'of' is occur after a determiner; an article, a determiner, or a demonstrative etc. should follow that 'of'. Thus isn't the expression 'most of cars' grammatically wrong, is it? In short, in my opinion, from the 'half of Americans surveyed', the word 'of' should be omitted.

Can I request you to prove to me why that opinion is wrong, please? 

YES now i got it very well about  definite article

Hello! Excuse me, I have several questions.
1. Why the Italian language is "the" Italian language, and why Italian food is just 'Italian food'?(without 'the') 
2. So far as I know, If something is referred to generically the zero article is used, and If specifically, the definite article used. In my English text book, however, there are some sentence in which I don't understand the use of articles. 
a 'Korean cuisine has been embraced by diners across the world.'
b 'Visitors to Korea cite the cuisine as one of the top three attractions...'
c 'About half of Americans surveyed picked "Korean food" as the first thing that comes to mind when....".
Since all of the three thickened nouns are referred to specifically, I think that definite articles should be attatched infront of them.
In addition, I think that 'half of Americans' is gramatically wrong, because, as the word 'half' is a determiner or predeterminer, we can say 'half fruits' or 'half (of) the fruits' but cannot say 'half of fruits'.  
Please teach me the reason why zero articles are used and why my views are wrong.

Hello gfhandel

Articles can be confusing, can't they!

the Italian languagethe is used here because language is a singular countable noun.

Italian food: there is no article because food is used here as an uncountable noun in a general sense.

diners, visitors and Americans:  These plural, countable nouns don't have articles because they are actually used in a general sense:  These groups of people have not been mentioned before, so at this point we don't know which diners across the world, which visitors to Korea or which surveyed Americans are being referred to.

half of Americans surveyed - this is correct because the noun is being used in its general sense. Later, when we know the about the specific and definite group that were surveyed, we could say half of the Americans surveyed.

Does this answer your questions?

I hope it helps

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team


ok, thanks for aswer. :)

i get a question about this.
why i can say (cats like  milk) and don´t using the definete article and i can say too(The wolf is not really a dangerous animal)  using the definite article if it supposed i don´t use the definite article in general things?
please answer my question i´m confused.

Hello Franck,
Talking about things in general is an area where articles are very confusing. See my comment to tbt below. I suggest if you are trying to learn about articles that you leave this area until last and focus on the clearer rules first.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

there are two articles: definite article and indefinite article.
the first one is a/an and it´s for peoples jobs and talk about indefinite things.
the second one (the) it´s to talk about all these things that are above these comments, am i right?

Hello Franck,
The definite article is 'the' and the indefinite article is 'a/an'.
One description is that we use the definite article to talk about things that the speaker and listener both know about. We use the indefinite article when the speaker is introducing new information.
However, there are many ways to look at articles and I suggest you read this page carefully, along with the page on the indefinite article.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

I have same doubt as khoa's. Is 'a' and 'the' interchangeable when we say something about all the things of that kind?