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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 again bella9073,

It's common to use 'the' with shops and similar places. Depending on the context, it may mean that the speaker is talking about a specific shop or it may simply mean 'I'm going shopping'. Both of these conversations are possible, for example:


I'm going to the shop.

OK. Listen, in the centre aisle they've got some new chocolate bars with caramel filling. Could you get me one?

[both speakers understand which shop they are talking about]


I'm going to the shop.

OK. Could you get some cheese which you're there?

Sorry, I'm just going to the newsagent's.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hellow. How about names of airports such as Dubai airport,Julius Nyerere International Airport.?
Do we use definite articles ?

Hi Salum Hilali,

Normally, these are without the definite article. But, you could say the airport (without naming it) if it's clear to the listener or reader which airport you mean. :)


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sir. Could you explain the differences between the four sentences?

1. Rises of computers are inexorable.
2. The rise of the computer is inexorable.
3. The rise of computers is inexorable.
4. Rises of the computers are inexorable

Hello cynthia,

We don't use 'rise' in the plural to talk about a single item (computers), so 1 and 4 are not correct.

Sentences 2 and 3 are both possible. We can use both the zero article with a plural noun and the definite article with a singular noun for general meaning:

computers: zero article with plural noun - used to generalise about what is typical

the computer: definite article with singular noun - use to describe an imagined representative/model example

In certain contexts the a difference can be important, but in your context you can use either form without changing the meaning of the sentence.



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sir. I read live football text coverage on Twitter and the writer said 'a second change of the evening with 15 minutes to play'. My question is why not use 'the' and say 'the second change of the evening with 15 mins to play'.

Hello Gendeng,

'A second change' here has a similar meaning to 'another change'.

It's normal to say 'the first change' but then talk about 'a second change', 'a third change' etc. I can't explain a logical rule for this; it's simply the convention which has grown up through usage over time.


I think if we said 'the second change' it would imply that we were waiting for a particular change. In other words, we would know which player was going to be replaced and which player was going to come on. It would imply a known plan. A commentator might say this if, for example, a player is injured and his replacement is warming up, so they know that the change is coming and are just waiting for it to happen.



The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, we use at LearnEngsh or on LearnEnglish. I can't explain how "at' works and how "on" works

Hello Jembut,

The Cambridge Dictionary has a good general explanation of how to use 'at', 'in' and 'on' to speak about a place. When I talk about the website in general, I use 'on' ('There are lots of useful resources on LearnEnglish'), but I think it's also OK to say 'at'.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, teachers. Could you explain which 'bus'/'train' the speaker means? Is there only one bus/train? We'll have to take the bus/train.