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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




Hi Plokonyo,

The noun restaurant needs to have an article. It could be:

  • I'm going to a restaurant tonight. (The listener doesn't know which restaurant I mean.)
  • I'm going to the restaurant tonight. (The listener knows which restaurant I mean.)

Does that make sense?


The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Jonathan. What about the structure "...of the day/the year/afternoon?" For example.

Man Utd make the first change of the afternoon.
Word of the day.

Does 'the' means "this$ here? So it would be Man Utd make the firrs change of this afternoon. Wors of this day.

Hi Plokonyo,

It's similar! If you say this, you are indicating this afternoon (not any other afternoon) and this day (not any other day) to the listener, with emphasis.

In the examples you mention, the speaker uses the. It identifies which afternoon/day the speaker means, but without the emphasis that this has. The first change of the afternoon must be the afternoon now/today, and word of the day must be today.

Does that make sense?


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello there! Please provide me some details about the issue with understanding the case I faced with during reading the news on BBC website. Here it is:

"The trade agreement is primarily about the rules for goods crossing borders. It will say far less about the trade in services. Is there going to be a separate statement from the EU which will recognise UK rules governing financial services as roughly "equivalent" to EU rules? That would make it much easier for UK firms which export services to continue doing business in the EU market.

There is, as expected, not a lot in this agreement for service companies to cheer about. The UK will still be hoping that the EU issues an "equivalence" decision on financial services in the near future, but service companies in general have not got as much help in this deal as the British government had been pushing for. The guaranteed access that UK companies had to the EU single market is over."

The question is: why they use 'the' in some cases like 'the EU issues' or 'the EU single market' and skip it in writing 'UK rules' or 'UK companies'? That moment is kinda confusing and I would like to make it clear. Thank you so much in advance!

Hello kosoy007,

It depends on whether 'EU' and 'UK' are acting as noun phrases or as adjectives modifying another noun. For example, 'UK companies' means 'companies in the UK' or 'British companies': the word 'UK' tells us which companies and is acting as an adjective.

In contrast, in 'The UK will still be hoping that the EU issues an "equivalence" decision ...', 'the UK' means 'The United Kingdom' (i.e. the government of the UK) and 'the EU' refers to the government of the EU (in this case, 'issues' is a verb).

Does that make sense?

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much for replying, Kirk!
Please also explain the moment why they use "the EU market" in the sentence "That would make it much easier for UK firms which export services to continue doing business in the EU market." Because you can also say "European market" or "Europe Union's market" so "EU" is shown as an adjective here, but still is using with a definite article "the". The same situation repeats in "The guaranteed access that UK companies had to the EU single market is over" with "the EU single market" phrase, which means "European united market", as I understand.
Could you please provide some info about these particular cases as well? Thank you for your help!

Hello kosoy007,

It's common to use abbreviations of organisations and states in this way:

the UN General Assembly

the UK Parliament

the EU single market

the US Treasury Department


You can use European as an adjective, of course, or say the European Union's single market, but I think the EU... is the most common choice in this context. It's really a matter of convention, however, not grammatical or lexis rules.



The LearnEnglish Team

I got it! Thank you once again!

I was wondering if it is ok to say "end of year ceremony" or is it"end of the year ceremony "

Hello IsabelEdwards,

You can say both, though in most situations 'end-of-year ceremony' is probably more common.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team