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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

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The definite article the 2

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The definite article the 3

GapFillTyping_MTU3MDY

 

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

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The definite article with names 2

 GapFillTyping_MTU3MDg=

The definite article with names 3

GapFillTyping_MTU3MDk=

The definite article with names 4

GapFillTyping_MTU3MTA=

 

Comments

Hello Haleh,
Strictly speaking, there is nothing grammatically wrong with that sentence, but it means that one specific group of wolves are dangerous. If you want to talk about wolves in general, you would probably say 'Wolves are dangerous animals.' instead.
Best wishes,
Adam
The LearnEnglish Team

I am really appreciate your help, Adam.but I got a little bit confused. what about these two sentences:
A wolf is a dangerous animal.
The wolf is a dangerous animal.
and also:
A tomato is good for health.
Tomatoes are good for health.
The tomato is good for health.
The tomatoes are good for health.
what are  the differences between them.
thanking you in advance for your help again.

Hello Haleh,
Both of the 'wolf' sentences you give are grammatically correct and mean pretty much the same as my example.
I feel it's more natural to say 'good for your health' in the tomato examples. Apart from that, 'The tomatoes are good for health.' has a different meaning from the other sentences, similar to the meaning of 'The wolves are dangerous animals' which we discussed earlier.
Beyond that, like the wolves examples, the meaning is almost the same, with perhaps a slight difference in emphasis. For example, 'A tomato is good for your health' implies to me that eating one single tomato is healthy and similarly 'A wolf is a dangerous animal' makes me imagine the danger of facing one wolf. The sentences with plurals ('Tomatoes are...' and 'Wolves are...') suggest, for example, that wolves are dangerous in general without saying if one wolf is dangerous.
This difference is irrelevant with wolves, because even one wolf is a strong and fierce animal. However, you could say that 'Africanized bees are dangerous animals', but you probably wouldn't say 'An africanized bee is a dangerous animal' because one bee isn't usually very dangerous.
I hope that helps!
Best wishes,
Adam
The LearnEnglish Team

once again thanks.your answer was absolutely clear.I got it.
The best of luck

Why is it the beach or the grass, when I say something like "I like to sit on the beach" or "I like to lie on the grass." These aren't specific beaches or specific grasses.
Thanks.

Remember: most times article usage is neither correct nor incorrect, but depends on what you wish to express.
 
Examples:
Chicken = meat from a chicken (presumably for eating)
The chicken = a specific bird known as a chicken, or some portion of specific meat from a bird known as a chicken
A chicken = a whole bird (perhaps not ready for eating, or not meant to be eaten)
 
"I have chicken in the refrigerator.  It came from a chicken that we raised for years and had grown very attached to."
 
"The chicken in the refrigerator comes from a chicken that we had grown attached to."
 
Grass = green stuff that we often see in parks (herbaceous plants with narrow leaves - wiki)
The grass = specific grass growing from the ground
A grass = one of the numerous varieties of grasses
 
"Chickens that eat grass usually produce superior eggs, if the grass (that they eat) is not overly fertilized."
 
"Usually, the grass that you find on a beach is on protected land."
 
"We found a very strange grass on the beach."
 
"If you prefer, we can sit on the grass instead of the bench."
 
Beach = a type of land, near a body of water
The beach = some specific parcel of beach
A beach = one beach
 
"All of the land at the rear of the house is beach. Furthermore, all of the beach between the two posts is your private beach."
 
"The house was located on nothing but beach.  It was beach as far as the eye could see.  I now have an entirely different perspective whenever I go to a beach."
 
"That's the beach.  As expected, it is beach, beach, and only beach."

Even as a native speaker, this can be tricky to explain, especially as (the!) language changes (see my original question).
To try and illustrate the problem: ''I like to sit on the beach'' just sounds right, whereas ''I like to sit on beach'' sounds wrong. However, it can be more complicated: if you say ''I like to sit on the grass'' this could imply a more specific location.
You could say, ''I like to sit on sand'' or ''I like to sit on pebbles'' meaning that you prefer this in general.
If you say, ''I like to sit on grass'' then this means you like to sit on grass in general - as opposed to, say, sitting on sand or concrete. If you were going to the park, you would always say, ''I'm going to sit on the grass''. You wouldn't say, ''I'm going to sit on grass''.

Is use of the definite article changing? We always used to say The Titanic and The Congo but the BBC now just says Titanic and Congo.

Wonderful,
I have two questions to make.
"I will climb the Everest in the Himalayas tomorrow"
Can I put 'the' before Everest?
"I will climb the mount Everest in the Himalayas tomorrow"
Is this correct?

no answers :(

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