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 hearer/reader knows exactly what we are referring to.

• because there is only one:

The Pope is visiting Russia.
The moon is very bright tonight.
The Shah of Iran was deposed in 1979.

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 place or in those surroundings:

 

We live in a small village 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 in the blue shirt over there.  = (the boy I am pointing at)

 

 
• because we have already mentioned it:

A woman who fell 10 metres from High Peak was lifted to safety by a helicopter. The woman fell while climbing.
The rescue is the latest in a series of incidents on High Peak. In January last year two men walking on the peak were killed in a fall. 

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.(= Joe can play any piano)
She is learning the guitar.(= She is learning to play any 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.

• With adjectives like rich, poor, elderly, 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.

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 Nepal; 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; 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; the Sunflowers

organisations:

the United Nations; the Seamen’s Union

hotels, pubs and restaurants*:

the Ritz; the Ritz Hotel; the King’s Head; the Déjà Vu

*Note: We do not use the definite article if the name of the hotel or restaurant is the name of the owner, e.g.,Brown’s; Brown’s Hotel; Morel’s; Morel’s Restaurant, etc.

families:

the Obamas; the Jacksons

Exercise

Comments

Hello sir,
I want to know the difference in these sentences as they are denoting a class and one statement contains 'the' and other one not
1. Dogs are faithful.
2. The apples are red.
Thank you

Hello Devesh Raj

Peter wrote a lengthy explanation of this in another comment -- please follow the link to see his explanation there.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, how is " the " in the following sentence justified if the listener doesn't know anything about the celebration: I like the way they celebrate their festival.

Hi sam61

Presumably here there is one specific way they celebrate their festival (the second bullet point above), though I'd need to know the full context to be completely sure. I expect it's for the reason I've mentioned, though.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

He is a type of guy who...
He is the type of guy who... Do they mean the same thing?

Hello sam61,

I don't think we would use the first example (with 'a'). The second example (with 'the') is the standard form, in my view.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I would like to ask if the following sentences are correct:
Anyone who does not use Social media nowadays is behind times and needs to catch up
1. Is it a polite way to say something like this?
2.is it Social media or the Social media?

Hello agie,

No article is needed before 'Social media' but the sentence does not need an article elsewhere:

Anyone who does not use Social media nowadays is behind the times and needs to catch up.

 

The sentence is not impolite in terms of the language but it is quite a strong opinion to hold and express. You could make it less direct by making it clear you are expressing an opinion:

I feel that anyone...

I think that anyone...

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
A person to whom I almost gave money turned out to be a fraud.
The person to whom I almost gave money turned out to be a fraud.
Do they mean the same thing? Does the first sentence also mean that I almost gave money to multiple people and he/she is just one of them? Does the 2nd sentence mean that the reader/listener knows about that person?

Hello sam61

The speaker chooses 'a' or 'the' depending on whether they have already mentioned this fraudulent person to the listener or not. If the speaker has already spoken about this person, then 'the' is the best option. If not, 'a' is the best choice.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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