The definite article: 'the'

Learn how to use the definite article the and do some exercises to practise using it.

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

Matching_MTU3MDQ

The definite article the 2

GapFillDragAndDrop_MTU3MDU

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

Grouping_MTU3MDc=

The definite article with names 2

 GapFillTyping_MTU3MDg=

The definite article with names 3

GapFillTyping_MTU3MDk=

The definite article with names 4

GapFillTyping_MTU3MTA=

 

Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.

Soumis par lexeus le sam 26/09/2020 - 19:59

Permalien
Hi Team, Sometimes we pronounce the article 'the' as 'thee' depending on the word that follows it. For example, 'the Island' or 'the administrator', etc. Is there a rule for when to use this? I thought that maybe it was something to do with vowel sounds, but I don't think that is the case. Could you tell me what the rule is? Thanks for your help, Lexeus.
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 27/09/2020 - 09:00

En réponse à par lexeus

Permalien

Hi lexeus,

You are correct in saying that the pronunciation of the is dependent on vowel sounds. When the next word begins with a vowel sound, the is pronounced to rhyme with 'three'.

The thing to remember is that sometimes a vowel (letter) may not represent a vowel sound. This is why we say 'a university' and 'a union', for example, where the initial sound is /j/ as in 'you' or 'yellow' even though the letter is a vowel.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Monse2509 le dim 13/09/2020 - 23:12

Permalien
Hi, what about the body parts? Definite or indefinite articles for example Arm, cheek, leg, back

Hello Monse2509,

The use of articles with body parts is no different from the use of articles with any nouns. If you are referring to a unique example then 'the' is used; if you are talking about any example then 'a' is more likely; if you are speaking in general then no article and a plural form is most likely:

You have a big nose. [there are many big noses; yours is one]

You have the biggest nose in the world! [this is a unique nose]

Big noses are beautiful. [talking about big noses in general]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Vijaya le ven 11/09/2020 - 18:02

Permalien
1.Deer is a timid creature. 2.The Deer is a timid creature. 3.Giraffe is the tallest animal. Please explain and justify the use of the definite article 'the' in sentence 2 and 3 and whether sentence 1 is correct.

Hello Vijaya,

In 2, 'the' is used in the way explained above:

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.)

In 3, 'the' is used as part of a superlative adjective ('the tallest', 'the best', 'the most expensive', etc.).

I'm afraid that 1 and 3 are not correct -- in standard British English, it's not correct to begin such a sentence with a singular noun and no determiner. You could begin with 'the' (as in 2) or more commonly a plural form is used -- for example, 'Giraffes are the tallest animals.'

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Rita Laranjeira le jeu 10/09/2020 - 13:02

Permalien
Hi! Should we say 'develop management' or 'develop the management'? Meaning as a government strategy to strengthen (the) management capability and leverage performance? Thanks
Profile picture for user Kirk

Soumis par Kirk le jeu 10/09/2020 - 16:13

En réponse à par Rita Laranjeira

Permalien

Hello Rita Laranjeira,

I'm afraid I'd need to see the full context to be able to say for sure. You're welcome to send us this is you'd like.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Fiona le jeu 03/09/2020 - 01:41

Permalien
Is “the best books” a wrong expression, since “the” suggests that there is only one?

Hello Fiona,

It's quite possible to use 'the' with plural nouns:

These five books are the best ones I've ever read.

I answered the three emails we got yesterday.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Fiona le dim 30/08/2020 - 11:40

Permalien
Hello, thanks for the lesson. It’s helpful. May I ask why we say ‘the First World War’, instead of ‘First World War’; ‘the second floor’, instead of ‘second floor’? Does that fall into the category of “it’s the only one”?

Soumis par karentrewinnard le jeu 27/08/2020 - 08:51

Permalien
When we abbreviate an organisation's name do we leave off the definite article? Eg: the Princess Fund. Is it TPF or PF

Hi karentrewinnard,

We usually leave the out of the abbreviation. For example, we say The BBC and The UN.

I think this is just a convention, not a rule. So, there might be some abbreviations which do abbreviate the - but I can't think of any examples at the moment.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Avianna le mar 25/08/2020 - 10:00

Permalien
Hello, we don't use article "the" with the name of bridges but there are some that are used with "the". Do we use "the" with Golden Gate bridge?

Hello Avianna,

Yes, we usually say the Golden Gate Bridge.

Most bridges are treated as pI don't think there is a rule here. You just need to learn which bridges have no article and which take the definite article.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par dvdmrn le lun 24/08/2020 - 02:43

Permalien
Regarding the "French Guiana" question, is it necessarily wrong to say "the French Guiana"? Since you might be using the article to specify which of the Guianas.

Hello dvdmrn,

I've never heard it described as anything other than French Guiana (no article), so I think adding 'the' would not sound natural.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par clintoncerejo le ven 14/08/2020 - 05:27

Permalien
Hi. I have a question regarding the pronunciation of ‘the’ as ‘thee’ before a noun beginning with a vowel or having a vowel sound. Such as ‘thee edition’ as opposed to ‘the edition’. Is this pronunciation of ‘the’ as ‘thee’ before a vowel, compulsory or is it a suggestion? I couldn’t find any official reference suggesting that this pronunciation is in fact mandatory. Sure, it’s widely used and accepted as correct, but is it grammatically incorrect to say ‘the old man’ instead of ‘thee old man’. ? Would that be wrong English if I chose to say ‘the’ instead of ‘thee’ in that scenario ?
Profile picture for user Jonathan R

Soumis par Jonathan R le ven 14/08/2020 - 14:11

En réponse à par clintoncerejo

Permalien

Hi clintoncerejo,

No, it wouldn't be grammatically wrong. But it might (or might not) be considered a pronunciation error. Using the longer vowel sound (e.g. 'thee edition') is a feature of standard pronunciation, at least in British English, so it's normal and expected from that point of view. 

But at the same time, many speakers (including myself) don't always follow the standard, and there is a lot of variation in pronunciation. So, I'm afraid I don't have a simple answer.

Unless you need to take a pronunciation test, I would say that if your words can be clearly understood by a listener, you can say either 'the' or 'thee'.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Kim Hui-jeong le jeu 13/08/2020 - 22:38

Permalien
(Thank you, sir, for your such advanced reply.) Then, Can I conclude that 'the' in front of an uncountable noun is optional even when the object it refers is unique?

If the uncountable noun is abstract (not concrete), and the intended meaning is general (not specific), then the is often omitted.

  • We hope that delivery next month will not cause you serious inconvenience.

Here, I understand delivery as an abstract and general thing, not as a specific instance of delivery (even though the context is about a specific customer order). If we want to make it more specific, we could say:

  • We hope that the delivery of this order next month will not cause you serious inconvenience.

This is much more clearly about a specific delivery, not delivery in general, so the is used. But I do think the first version would be the more common way to say it.

Two more examples:

  • Friendship is valuable.
  • The friendship we have is valuable.

So, it's not really optional, but dependent on the situation. It's hard to give rules about this, since much depends on what level of specificity is expected in the particular situation. A good way to build up a sense for this is by noting more examples with and without the that you find, as you've done here.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Kim Hui-jeong le mer 12/08/2020 - 22:58

Permalien
"We are sorry your order cannot be sent immediately. But we hope that [delivery] at the beginning of next month will not cause you serious inconvenience." About the 'delivery', does this sentence implies that this company will make more than 'one' delivery at the beginning of next month, because the article 'the' isn't used in front of the 'delivery'?

Hi Kim Hui-jeong,

I understand delivery in an uncountable sense in this example. So, although it's possible the company may make more than one delivery, the sentence meaning isn't specific about that.

If the company wants to emphasise that it will only make a single delivery, it's possible to say a delivery. But I think the uncountable version would be the more usual way to say it.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Mordhvaj le mar 11/08/2020 - 09:57

Permalien
I know the English language. Could you please explain why article 'the' has been used in the above sentence as we do not use 'the' before the names of languages?

Hello Mordhvaj,

When we use the name of the language there is no article, as you say:

I speak English and French.

The book was translated into Farsi last year.

 

However, in your example 'English' is not a noun, but an adjective. The noun is 'language' and the article is used before it because we specify which language we are talking about - the English language.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mordhvaj,

When we use the name of the language there is no article, as you say:

I speak English and French.

The book was translated into Farsi last year.

 

However, in your example 'English' is not a noun, but an adjective. The noun is 'language' and the article is used before it because we specify which language we are talking about - the English language.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Mordhvaj le mer 29/07/2020 - 10:46

Permalien
We travelled by a car. (means of transport) Could you please tell me the reason why the indefinite article 'a' is grammatically incorrect in the above sentence?

Hello Mordhvaj,

When we use 'by' + a mode of transport, in general, no article is used. As far as I know this is due to convention -- in other words, it's just what people say.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Robert Darling le lun 27/07/2020 - 15:47

Permalien
I just found this in the OED: The differential calculus is often spoken of as ‘the calculus’.

Soumis par Robert Darling le lun 27/07/2020 - 02:02

Permalien
Why is 'the' used so frequently with calculus, as with 'the infinitesimal calculus'?

Hello Robert Darling,

I'm not at all familiar with this topic, but what I see in the Wikipedia, for example, is 'infinitesimal calculus' (without 'the'). I can try to help you with your question if you could explain the context. Context matters a great deal when we use articles.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I see 'the' used with calculus very frequently in publications of a scholarly nature. Scientists often use 'the calculus', but the guy in the street never seems to. Perhaps it has something to do with the root of calculus, meaning small stone? Here is one sentence I can find quickly: 'Newton invented the infinitesimal calculus'. Thank you.

Soumis par WantToLearn le dim 26/07/2020 - 09:16

Permalien
Hello sir good afternoon. I have a doubt regarding one of the question of my exam. There is a sentence given below- "She was the best and the wisest girl in the class." Is it the correct sentence? as I think the sentence should be- "She was the best and wisest girl in the class."

Hello WantToLearn,

I'd encourage you to speak to your teacher about any questions you have about your exam, as we don't know how you've been taught, what the instructions were, what your teacher's expectations are, etc.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Vsevolod_IV le sam 27/06/2020 - 22:32

Permalien
Good evening, Sir! Could you, please, explain me one thing: are constructions "X of Y" with uncountable abstract nouns for X common in English, or do you usually change them for gerundial phrases? Example ("X of Y"): Sorry, but discussion of my diet wasn't part of deal. Example (the gerundial): Sorry, but discussing my diet wasn't part of deal. Thank you in advance!

Hello Vsevolod_IV,

Both forms can be used. I think discussing here implies that the speaker is being asked to discuss the topic, while discussion is more neutral and may or may not include the speaker in the discussion.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par p t balagopal le ven 19/06/2020 - 13:18

Permalien
Sir, The following sentence is the first line of an essay. Here there is no definite article before "teaching and learning", even though these words are followed by an of-phrase. I think the of-phrase make them specific, and the definite article must be there according to the rule that abstract nouns, if qualified by an of-phrase, must have 'the' before them .for eg. Indian music becomes The music of India. "Teaching and learning of English is gaining importance in every field today thanks to internet". Please explain.
Profile picture for user Kirk

Soumis par Kirk le ven 19/06/2020 - 15:14

En réponse à par p t balagopal

Permalien

Hello p t balagopal

You're right, that sentence should begin with 'the'. I'm afraid I can't explain why whoever wrote it did not include it.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par taile77 le mer 17/06/2020 - 20:34

Permalien
I am reviewing some documents for my boss and I noticed a sentence that doesn't sound right to me. "These statements are prepared on an interim basis and do not include all the adjustments made to the quarterly financial statements." My question is if this sentence is correct, or do we say "...include adjustments made..."? Thanks for your time in responding.

Hello taile77,

It depends. If the statements contain some but not all of the adjustments, then ...include all the adjustments made... is fine.

If, on the other hand, no adjustments are included, then ...include adjustments made... is appropriate.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Shameer le sam 06/06/2020 - 07:10

Permalien
Sir, Why do we use the definite article "The" before the word "British" in this sentence. The British drink a lot of tea.
Profile picture for user Kirk

Soumis par Kirk le sam 06/06/2020 - 14:58

En réponse à par Shameer

Permalien

Hello Shameer

We use 'the' here because we are speaking about the people of one particular country, nation, or group. There is no other group called 'the British' and so we can assume that the listener knows which group we are referring to.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, I have seen in some books that we should never use "The" at the beginning of a general statement. At the same time, we can use it if the sentence is like below. The British I know drink a lot of tea. If you don't mind, could you please clarify it.
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 07/06/2020 - 07:17

En réponse à par Shameer

Permalien

Hello Shameer,

It's perfectly fine to use 'the British' in that way.

 

I can't comment specifically on the rule you mention since I don't know its source or the full context in which it is given. The definite article often shows specificity, but it can be used for general reference as well.

 

If you'd like some more information on how various articles can be used for general reference, then take a look at my reply to another user on this page:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/the-definite-article-the

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Bobi Learner le ven 29/05/2020 - 21:12

Permalien
Excuse me sir, can you help me? Is article "the" refers sigular or plural? I don't understand some sentences below: 1) Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews 2) I was handed over to the Romans as a prisoner from Israel Thank you, sir.

Hello Bobi Learner

'the' can be used to refer to singular or plural nouns. In both of the sentences you ask about, 'the' comes before a plural noun ('leaders', 'Jews', 'Romans').

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par raj.kumar123 le mer 20/05/2020 - 17:13

Permalien
Dear teacher, 1. "It suppresses personal interests of man." Is 'the' required before 'personal' when 'man' is used for men in general? 2. "He was whipped in face." Is 'the' required before 'face'? 3. "at global level" or "at the global level"? 4. "Western civilization centres on the society" Is 'the' required before 'western' and 'society'? 5. "It encompasses ideal lifestyle." Is 'an' required before 'ideal lifestyle'? Thank You. Raj

Soumis par raj.kumar123 le mar 12/05/2020 - 17:19

Permalien
Dear teacher, Hello. "Cow is a sacred animal." Here, I find 'cow' without 'a' or 'the' quite unusual. However, many people use concrete singular countable nouns without any article. For example, "Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (Mary Wollstonecraft). Here, "Woman" in used without any article. Is it grammatically acceptable? I haven't found a rule related to it in any book of grammar. Could you please shed some light on it. Thanks. Raj