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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 ahrene,

There are two possible meanings of the beach here.

  1. It's a particular beach, and people know which one the speaker means (as you correctly mentioned). For example, maybe the speakers go regularly to one particular beach, or there is only one beach in the local area.
  2. It has a generic meaning. The beach represents the whole class of beaches (i.e., all beaches or any beach). This is similar to the "to say something about all the things referred to by a noun" in the explanation above. In this case, the speaker doesn't indicate a particular beach. This may be because the speaker has no preference (any beach is OK). Or, maybe the speaker just wants to check the listener's general feeling about the beach first, and intends to discuss details of the beach trip later in the conversation.

Yes! It's also possible to say a beach here too in both your sentences, meaning 'any beach' and not a particular beach.

Does that make sense? There are a lot of options :)

We answer questions as soon as we can, but at busy times it may take us a little more time!

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

The article the with families like 'the Obamas'. Could you tell me it is wrong when I write the Obama's (with the apostrophe)? Thanks a lot.

Hello Kunthea,

Since 'the Obamas' refers to more than one person, the apostrophe should go after the 's': 'the Obamas' house'.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Kirk!

You know one of my teachers explained that this sentence is correct: 'The Sok's has moved to Japan for ten years.' Is this sentence correct? Why or why not?

one more thing, he gave me an example about the definite article 'the' + noun to talk about noun in general: 'The vegetable is full of chemicals.' And he said that the word 'vegetable' is uncountable noun, a collective noun. Besides, he said the article 'the' cannot be used with uncountable noun when we talk about noun in general. And then he told me that 'The vegetable' is an exception, which we can use to talk about things in general. Please help me clarify this doubt. I'm so confused with what he said.

All the best,

Hello Kunthea,

I'm not familiar enough with 'Sok's' to be able to say for sure. It sounds a little odd to me, but it could well be correct.

I'd say that the sentence 'The vegetable is full of chemicals' falls under the category of saying something about all the things referred to by a noun that is mentioned above.

It's not wrong to say that, but 99% of the time, we say 'Vegetables' instead of 'The vegetable'. I can't think of a time I've ever used 'the' in that way. It's something you might hear in a very old documentary, but otherwise it's quite rare.

Hope this helps.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much Kirk!
I've learned a lot from LearnEnglish of the British Council.

can you explain use of the in following sentence

There is no doubt that education and the learning process has changed since the introduction of computers

Hello Sourav Bhatia,


There is no definite article before education as it is an abstract noun.


The definite article is used before learning process and introduction as these are defined/specified nouns:

the learning process = the process of learning; it is a specific process

the introduction of computers = the introduction of a specific thing (computers)



The LearnEnglish Team

Do we use 'the' in front of United Arab Emirates?

Hello Chekytan,

The Encyclopedia Britannica and the Wikipedia use 'the United Arab Emirates'. Please have a look in reference materials -- you can often find the answer to such questions there.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team