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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 Uttiwari85!
Actually, if you are talking about a specific action right now, then grammatically yes, you could. However, we almost always use the; it's not about grammar, just that in English we usually use 'the' with playing an instrument.

Hope that helps!
Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team 

hi i can't watch the video, plz help on this issue

Hello Mahafuj,
I'm sorry to hear about your problem. There isn't a video on this page - would you mind leaving a comment on the page with the video that isn't working for you, so we can see which one it is?
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

The rule reads:
We use the definite article in front of a noun when we believe the hearer/reader knows exactly what we are referring to.
Now look at the following example:
We live in a small village next to the church.
It seems doubtful, that the reader knows exactly the church we are referring to, but still doesn't know the village where the church is located.

Not ALL of the rules of definite article usage need to apply in order to decide to use a certain article.
You could say "a church".  However, it would imply a different situation.
My feeling is that if you are giving directions, and there is only ONE church in the town, then you would want to say "the church", so that the listener knows that there is only one church in the town.
If you say "a church" when there is only one church in a town, then it most likely means that you are just talking about the surroundings in which you grew up, and are also presuming that the listener has no intention of visiting the town and trying to find your house.
The beauty is that you use articles as you would like in order to express exactly what you would like to express.

Dear editors,
Could you please help me with a special use of the definite article? The brand code of my company reads that we are an understanding company. Can I use the definite article here:
Our positioning: The understanding company (or To be the understanding company).
I do not refer to a particular class of objects here (the class of understanding companies as in "ABS is an understanding company), but on the contrary want to underline the uniqueness of our positioning (we listen to our customers, we hear and understand their needs). Is there any special rule for such cases?
Another example is when some companies use THE-article in their definitions (like ABC is the vendor of cutting edge software solutions). Is such use legible or a grammar mistake?
Thank you,

I m little bit confused about "a" and "the".
As i learn in previous exercise that we use "a" with singular noun to say something about all things of that kind...
eg. A dog like to eat meat.(all dog like to eat meat)
and if i want to use "the" article..if i ll say 
The wolf is not really a dangerous animal (= Wolves are not really dangerous animals)
so this is right statement,so even can i use "a" article for to say above statement
"A wolf is not really dangerous animal(=wolves are not really dangerous animals)

Hi, I am a little bit confused about something so, could you please help me to  understand the difference in usage
We use both definite and indefinite articles to say something about all things of that kind
A dog likes to eat meat 
The heart pumps blood around the body
Can I do the vice versa in the previous two examples? and why? thanks

Hi there!
That's an interesting question, and a little difficult to explain.
One important difference between definite and indefinite is that we use the definite when it is clear what we are talking about. Other than octopuses, most animals have only one heart – so when we talk about the heart, it is usually clear we are talking generally about the single heart most animals have.
However, there are a lot of dogs in the world – and it is not clear which one we are talking about. If you use 'The dog likes to eat meat', it sounds too specific – which dog?
A heart pumps blood around a body, though, sounds OK – but we prefer the!
Althugh it's a bit old fashioned, we DO sometimes use the when talking generally about an animal, especially when starting a longer piece of writing: “The platypus is an interesting animal. It lays eggs but has warm blood...”.
In fact, it's so confusing I tell my students that if they want to talk generally the easiest way to do it is just to use the plural:
Dogs like to eat meat.
Hope that helps!
Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team

hi .we have this sentence in our book text.I want to know if it is correct or not.
The wolves are dangerous animals.
Thanks for your help