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Do you know when you need to use the in common phrases and place names?

Look at these examples to see when the is and isn't used.

I'm going to bed.
I walk to work.
My children are going to start school.
I visited the school yesterday.
Mount Everest is in the Himalayas.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Articles 2: Grammar test 1

Grammar explanation

Here are some ways we use articles in common phrases and place names.

Common phrases

We don't usually use an article in expressions with bed, work and home.

go to bed / be in bed
go to work / be at work / start work / finish work
go home / be at home / get home / stay at home

We also don't normally use an article in expressions with school, university, prison and hospital.

start school / go to school / be at school
go to university / be at university
be sent to prison / go to prison / be in prison
go to hospital / be in hospital

But we usually use the if someone is just visiting the place, and not there as a student/prisoner/patient, etc.

My son has started school now. I went to the school to meet his teacher.
I went to the prison a lot when I was a social worker.
I'm at the hospital. My sister has just had a baby.

Place names

We don't normally use an article for continents, most countries, cities, towns, lakes, mountains or universities. So, we say:

Africa, Asia, Europe
India, Ghana, Peru, Denmark
Addis Ababa, Hanoi, New York, Moscow
Lake Victoria, Lake Superior, Lake Tanganyika
Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus
Cardiff University, Harvard University, Manchester University

Some countries are different. Country names with United have the. There are other countries which are exceptions too. So, we say:

the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States of America
the Bahamas, the Gambia

Seas and oceans, mountain ranges and rivers have the:

the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Mediterranean
the Andes, the Himalayas, the Alps
the Nile, the Amazon, the Yangtze

Universities with of in the title also have the:

the University of Cape Town, the University of Delhi, the University of Tokyo

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Articles 2: Grammar test 2

Nivel de idioma

Beginner: A1
Pre-intermediate: A2

Comments

Hi Yigitcan,

In your first example, we use 'the' because the meaning is that there is one fan available to cool him down. We say 'the' in similar situations even if there are multiple items. For example, we say 'turn on the light' in a room even if there are several lights to choose from. The assumption is that we mean the main light if there is nothing in the context to make another meaning clear.

In your second example, we always say 'the news'. You can say 'a news programme' but always 'the news'. It is a singular noun, even though it ends with an 's'.

We use 'the' with several channels of communication: 'on the radio', 'on the phone', 'on the Internet'. This is not a consistent rule, however, as we usually say 'on television', 'in a telegram', 'in a text', amongst others. Articles are governed by both rules and convention, so with forms like these there is often an arbitrary component which means they must simply be memorised.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,
Could you explain to me the different between two sentences:
I go to school
I go to the school
Thank you.
ND

Hello Nhi Do,

This is explained in the Common phrases section on this page. If you are someone who regularly goes to school -- for example, a student who spends their day at school -- then you would typically say 'to school'. In general, if a person says 'I go to school', it means they are a student.

If you don't regularly spend your day at school, then 'to the school' would typically be the correct form to use. For example, if you are a parent of a student and are going to speak with your child's teacher at the school, you would typically say 'I'm going to the school'.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello
When I want to pronounce a country which starts with "United". How do I pronounce "the"? Do I pronounce it as a "da" or as a "di"? (I don't know how to write it in phonetic language)

Hello AlanFab,

The word 'united' has a consonant sound at the beginning: /juːˈnaɪ.tɪd/.

The pronunication of 'the' before this is generally weak /ðə/ unless for some contextual reason you wish to emphasise it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello, i have a question
you mentioned that the universities with "of" in the title also have "the"

but in grammar test 2, question (3)
[ ( ) university of Nottingham ]
i supposed to answer (the) because it contains "of" in the title, but it's wrong, when i fill the gap with "the" it shows incorrect answer, why? ; that's kinda confusing.
i hope someone can help me please.

Hi moudinho,

'The' is defintely the right answer here. Did you type it with a capital letter 'T' (The)? It needs that because it's the first word in the sentence. Try that, and let us know if it works.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

oh, thanks a lot
i didn't pay attention for capital letters,
but yeah it worked when i typed it with capital T like this (The)
thanks again for helping, i appreciate it.

Hello!
Can you please explain to me the following cases:
Test 1, 3. why isn`t there any article in "at (-) university"
8. the same in "sent to (-) prison" but 5. at (the) hospital
But in Test 2 we have: 2. going to (the) prison; 4. goes to (the) prison;
and then 7. going to (the) school, NOT going to (-) school

Thank you in advance!

Hello Iryna_hn,

The reasons for these answers are outlined in the explanation above:

We also don't normally use an article in expressions with school, university, prison and hospital.

start school / go to school / be at school
go to university / be at university
be sent to prison / go to prison / be in prison
go to hospital / be in hospital

But we usually use the if someone is just visiting the place, and not there as a student/prisoner/patient, etc.

  1. My son has started school now. I went to the school to meet his teacher.
  2. I went to the prison a lot when I was a social worker.
  3. I'm at the hospital. My sister has just had a baby.

In sentence 1, the person speaking didn't go to school as a student -- in other words, they were visiting the school. The same is true in sentences 2 and 3.

If you examine the questions from the tasks, you'll see similar situations when 'the' is used. 

If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask us, but please also explain why you think 'the' should or should not be used.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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