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=

 

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Hello Raj,

It's possible to use women or woman in Wollstonecraft's title. In fact, she previous wrote a text entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Men. Both forms have a general meaning.

The sentence with cow is not grammatical. You could use a plural form without an article, the definite article or the indefinite article here. All can have a general meaning, but there are differences. It is a complex area but here are the rules:

 

a + singular countable noun

We can use this with general meaning when we are talking about something which defines the group. For example:

An elephant is an impressive sight.

In other words, being an impressive sight is one of the characteristics of an elephant; if we saw an animal and it was not impressive then we could be fairly sure that it was not an elephant. We are talking about any elephant here - it is true of them all.

 

the + singular noun

We can use this with general meaning when we are talking about our image or concept of the noun. For example:

The elephant can live for over sixty years.

Here we are not talking about a real elephant, but rather the concept of 'elephant' in our heads.

 

no article + plural countable noun or uncountable noun

we use this to talk about what is normal or typical of a type. It may or may not be true of all individuals but it is typical of most. For example:

Swedish people are tall.

Here we are talking about the average height of Swedes, not any particular person or concept.

 

The distinctions are subtle but sometimes can be important. For example, we can say with general meaning:

Whales are in danger of becoming extinct.

The whale is in danger of becoming extinct.

 

However, we cannot say:

A whale is in danger of becoming extinct.

This is because being in danger of becoming extinct may be true but it does not define the whale.

 

I hope that helps to clarify it for you. It is a complex area.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par H_L le lun 04/05/2020 - 17:17

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Hello, In 'The definite article with names " exercise, what do you mean by particular islands and mountains and why we don't use an article with it? and how is it different from "geographical features, such as mountain ranges, groups of islands, rivers, seas, oceans and canals"? Thanks
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Soumis par Kirk le mar 05/05/2020 - 08:48

En réponse à par H_L

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Hello H_L

Sorry about the confusion. When we say 'particular islands', what we mean is an island (e.g. Guadeloupe, Menorca) and not a group of islands (e.g. the Bahamas); similarly 'particular mountains' refers to a specific mountain (e.g. Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro) and not mountain ranges (e.g. the Himalayas, the Appalachians). In the exercise, these two options therefore go in the first group, since 'the' is not used with such place names.

Hope this helps.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par amin.sharifi le sam 02/05/2020 - 22:12

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Dear teachers Why in in the first sentence we don’t use “the” before “ power” but in the second one we do? 1-The voters have once again shown their support for the party in power. 2- The immense power on television.

Hello amin.sharifi,

The phrase 'in power' is a fixed expression meaning 'who holds power'. Power here is conceptual and abstract - power in general terms.

In the second sentence you are describing not power in general but a specific kind of power: the power of television. Thus, the definite article is used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

In this example, why not; expansion of power..., or the expansion of the power..., “ But this can be detrimental to the business of imperialism when the laws require things like due process and the right of the native population to be recognized as equal under the rule of law. Such laws run counter to imperialism’s main goal: the expansion of power and profit.“

Hello amin.sharifi

We don't normally explain the use of articles from other websites, but here I'd say since there is only one main goal, 'the' is used. 'power' is general here -- it can refer to all kinds of power I think -- and so 'the' would limit the meaning of the word too much.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par raj.kumar123 le mar 21/04/2020 - 05:30

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Dear teacher, I have come across the following sentence in an article: "All subsequent references to this source will be given in the text with the writer's last name and page number only." Do we require 'the' before 'page number'? Is this sentence grammatically acceptable? Thanks. Raj

Hello Raj,

You could use the before page number (meaning the page number of the book), but it is not essential as you could consider page number to be preceded by the possessive writer's, and we do not use articles and possessive forms together.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par raj.kumar123 le jeu 23/04/2020 - 14:35

En réponse à par Peter M.

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Dear Peter, Thanks for your response. When 'page' is used without 'the', does it not refer to all pages in general? Does the sentence in question mean that all the following references from this particular book will include the writer's last name and page number (in a general sense, whichsoever page it may be!)? I think, when 'page number' is considered to be 'preceded by the possessive writer's', it won't make any sense. Could you please shed light on it also, as I am not sure about it? Thanks. Raj
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Soumis par Peter M. le ven 24/04/2020 - 07:33

En réponse à par raj.kumar123

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Hello Raj,

I think the context makes it clear that the page number is related to a particular piece of writing by a particular writer. There is no possibility of misunderstanding here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par raj.kumar123 le sam 25/04/2020 - 12:14

En réponse à par Peter M.

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Dear Peter M, I am really sorry. I couldn't understand it. Could you please elaborate on it? Thank You. Raj

Soumis par raj.kumar123 le dim 19/04/2020 - 10:09

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Dear teacher, The definite article 'the' is not used with 'Indians' in a general sense. If I want to refer to the Indians who lived before the Colonial rule (when India included Pakistan and Bangladesh also), is it grammatically acceptable to use 'the Indians' in a general sense? Thanks. Raj

Hello Raj

It really depends on the context, so I'm afraid I can't really say anything that would apply for all situations. But in general, there is no difference. It might be useful to have a look at an article about India (for example, Partition of India) to see how articles are used there. On that page, the first three instances of 'Indians' are not preceded by 'the'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par raj.kumar123 le ven 03/04/2020 - 07:58

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Dear teacher, We drop 'the' after 'both'. For example, both books are interesting. But, I don't know how to use 'both' with 'the'+ 'adjective'= 'noun' (the rich= rich people). Which of the following is correct: 1. Both the rich and the poor should do hard work. 2. Both the rich and poor should do hard work. 3. Both rich and poor should do hard work. Here, 'the rich' refers to 'rich people' and 'the poor' refers to 'poor people'. Shall we drop/retain 'the'? Thanks.

Hello Raj

You can drop 'the' after 'both', but it is not required. 'Both books' and 'Both the books' and 'Both of the books' are all correct.

Sentences 1 and 2 are fine, though 1 is better. Sentence 3 is a bit unusual, but could be correct in a specific context.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par raj.kumar123 le mer 01/04/2020 - 17:38

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Dear Teacher, Hello. First, let me thank all the experts for their support and guidance. I have the following three questions: . 1. I read somewhere that 'the' is not used with 'Indians' as the word ends in 'ian'. However, many people use 'the' with 'Indians'. Could you please shed light on it? 2: During childhood, I was taught to use 'the' with 'Hindus' and ' Muslims'. However, many times, people use these two words without 'the'. I have always used 'the' with Hindus/Muslims in my assignments. Since we drop 'the' after 'both'... Shall I write "both the Hindus and the Muslims" (Considering it to be a special case!) Or "both the Hindus and Muslims" Or "both Hindus and Muslims" in a sentence. 3. How is 'a first time' different from 'the first time'? Regards, Raj

Hello Raj

It's really difficult to make generalizations about definite articles because they are so contextual. It's also possible that the use of definite article with such important groups is a little different in India than in the UK due to the different political and social situation.

Following on this idea, I'm guessing (but don't really know for sure) that the rules you speak of in questions 1 and 2 are based on semantics more than grammar. In other words, if you say 'the Hindus', some might say that it makes it sound as if you're talking about all Hindus without exception. In a country with so many religions and ethnicities, this kind of thinking can promote division rather than unity. But this is not really a grammatical rule; it's a guideline for usage based on what the grammar can be interpreted to mean.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of a time when you'd say 'a first time'. By definition, there is only one first time. You could say 'a first-time batter', but here 'first-time' is an adjective in a noun phrase, not an entire noun phrase by itself.

I hope this helps.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Sheryn Moon le lun 30/03/2020 - 10:55

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My student wrote this: 'On the other hand, there is another measure that should be taken into account which is the price of the public transport. If the public transport were cheaper a considerable amount of people would use it.' I corrected the use of 'the' before public transport. How would you best explain why? I wanted to share your page with him but then I couldn't explain the note that the article is usually used before a system or a service. I'd very much appreciate your thoughts.

Hello Sheryn

Here 'public transport' is being spoken about in general. The note about systems and services only applies when you're talking about using the service. For example, we can say 'I heard it on the radio' to speak about using the radio service, but when speaking in general about the service, we say 'Radio needs to be innovative to survive in the Internet age'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par _princess_ le mar 24/03/2020 - 16:32

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Hi,which variant is correct? The Coleridge's hotel or Colridge's hotel The Norvich museum or Norvich museum

Hello _princess_,

Generally, we use the before the names of museums, galleries and hotels, as well as bars and restaurants:

The Louvre

The Natural History Museum

The Grand (Hotel)

The Queen's Head (pub)

 

However, when there is a name (often the owner's name) with an apostrophe we do not use an article:

Paddy's Bar

Joe's Grill and Restaurant

 

As far as your examples go, I would expect that the forms would be as follows:

The Coleridge Hotel [without the 's unless Coleridge is the name of the owner]

The Norvich Museum

However, these are my expectations. Exceptions are always possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par raj.kumar123 le sam 21/03/2020 - 12:00

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Dear Sir/Madam, How do the following two sentences convey different meanings: a. "The book resonates with the historical past and the contemporary politics." b. "The book resonates with the historical past and contemporary politics." In other words, could you please let me know how the insertion of article 'the' before ‘contemporary politics’ change the meaning? Thanks. Raj

Hello Raj

It seems odd to me to use 'the' here, but I suppose it refers to the historical period referred to. It's difficult to say for sure without knowing the context. 'contemporary' can also refer to now, i.e. the time of speaking -- as in sentence b, today's politics -- or it can refer to the time period of a past period. You can see examples of both in the Cambridge Dictionary.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Soumis par Smiley1 le dim 15/03/2020 - 11:58

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The 'the' is the most difficult grammar rule for me, even as for the phrase like 'in THE bottom', 'in THE hands of', 'THE Netherlands' ...etc.
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Soumis par Smiley1 le lun 17/02/2020 - 02:48

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Thank you for the teaching about the definite article. I like this kind of explanation! :)

Soumis par Tbm le dim 16/02/2020 - 20:21

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Hi. I have a question that I couldn't find the answer to it yet. In above text is mentioned that If we use the article 'the' with a single form of a noun it refers to the whole group. but why we still use the singular verbs such as 'is'. I mean why don't we say 'The wolf are ....' instead of 'the wolf is ...'. however we know it refer to the group of wolves and if still it is correct why can't we say 'The police is coming'. Thanks in advance
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Soumis par Kirk le lun 17/02/2020 - 06:25

En réponse à par Tbm

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Hello Tbm

These are just the way definite articles are used in English. When we say 'the wolf is a pack animal', it's as if we're thinking of the species rather than individual animals. This way of speaking of an animal is fairly infrequent -- if you look at the Wikipedia entry for 'Wolf', for example, you can see how it begins with this singular use but then changes to the plural in the third sentence.

As for 'the police are', this is just the way people have come to speak. The police can certainly be seen as a single entity, but this is not reflected in the way we typically speak.

Hope this helps.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par muratt le jeu 30/01/2020 - 15:33

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Hi, I am currently learning collective nouns and I would like to know if these sentences are grammatically correct. Should it be 1. A group of students is here OR A group of students are here? If the subject is 'group' should the verb be 'is'? It sounds very strange when I read it, but am I correct? thanks

Hi muratt,

In modern English both are acceptable.

 

When we use collective nouns, such as a group of, the verb can be either singular (when we are thinking of the group as a whole) or plural (if we are focusing on the group as a collection of individuals).

 

The rule is different when we use quantifiers. Here, the verb agrees with the noun which follows. For example:

A great number of people are waiting. [people = plural so a plural verb form is used]

A lot of time has been wasted. [time = singular so a plural verb form is used]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Elvin777 le ven 24/01/2020 - 20:13

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Hello All, could you please help me to clarify such cases for me. The susceptibility of (?) human brain to (?) manipulation with the implementation of (?) proper techniques leads to (?) easy penetration of dangerous ideas into our minds. 1) Could you please tell me if my placement of articles is correct? 2)What about (?) signs added by me? Are there any cases in which I have to add "the" article? 3) How do we use "the" article in such tricky sentences? Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks in advance :)

Hello Elvin777,

I would use articles as follows:

The susceptibility of the (1) human brain to (2) manipulation with the (3) implementation of (4) proper techniques leads to the (5) easy penetration of dangerous ideas into our minds.

  1. the used for generic representation
  2. no article for abstract concepts
  3. the used as the 'of' phrase identifies the typle of implementation
  4. no article for non-specific plural
  5. the used as the 'of' phrase specifies the type of penetration

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Momocompanyman le mar 24/12/2019 - 09:39

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Hello Mr Kirk, I can't find the factual mistake in the definate articale0 with names 3 about France.

Hello Momocompanyman

You're right, there is no mistake. There used to be one in the exercise, but we removed that part of the task and neglected to update the instructions until now. I'm very sorry for the confusion!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Maite23 le mar 19/11/2019 - 12:42

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Hello, The name of a restaurant is 'Restaurant Laguna'. Would you say on an invitation: 'The event will take place at Restaurant Laguna on May 5th...' or 'The event will take place at the Restaurant Laguna on May 5th...'? Thank you.
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Soumis par Kirk le mer 20/11/2019 - 07:45

En réponse à par Maite23

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Hello Maite23

The first one is correct.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Maite23 le mer 20/11/2019 - 10:54

En réponse à par Maite23

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Thank you, Kirk! What would be the explanation, which rule applies here?

Hello Maite23

This is a tricky area, as it depends on how well-known you think the restaurant is to the people receiving the invitation. 'the' is often used with unique restaurants, which also tend not to have the word 'restaurant' in their name (though as far as I know that is not a rule). Since the restaurant you asked about had 'restaurant' in its name, I recommend not using 'the', but it does depend a bit on the situation.

I'm sorry I can't be more definitive, but I hope that helps you make some sense of it.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Dor1989 le ven 08/11/2019 - 10:15

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Hi, in this sentence: "No matter if you dream of a laid-back experience under the sun of Mallorca or exploring the wonderful culture and architecture of Venice, we will provide you with a perfect plan of your journey.", the use of "the" while referring to "culture" is justified, as there's only one culture of Venice, right?

Hello Dor1989

Yes, 'the' is correct here. I would say 'for your journey' instead of 'of'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par academie_19 le ven 08/11/2019 - 10:06

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Hello, In a recent research on the Internet about ''Parts of speech'' I found out that articles (the, a, an) are considered adjectives. Is it right or wrong? In what case does this happen? Is there any difference between British English and American English? Thank you in advance.
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Soumis par Kirk le sam 09/11/2019 - 13:58

En réponse à par academie_19

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Hello academie_19

I'm not familiar with that idea; in most grammars, they are considered determiners. I would encourage you to check several grammars to get different perspectives on this idea.

With a few exceptions in a small number of specific phrases, the use of articles in British and American English is exactly the same.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par p t balagopal le mer 06/11/2019 - 15:26

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Hi, Is the definite article is required before 'intake ' in the following sentence? ' In our childhood we were not worried about intake of sugar ' Is there any law regarding this?

Soumis par p t balagopal le mar 05/11/2019 - 15:03

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sir, I would like to know whether the use of the definite article before the of-phrase in the following sentence is correct . " When we were children, we were not worried about [ the] intake of sugar" " Does the of-phrase make the noun [ intake ] specific or Can I drop the definite article ? Is there any rule regarding this ?
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Soumis par Kirk le mer 06/11/2019 - 07:50

En réponse à par p t balagopal

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Hello p t balagopal

I would suggest 'about sugar intake' here, to be honest. If you say 'intake of sugar', though, I would say 'our', or perhaps 'the', here.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par raj.kumar123 le dim 20/10/2019 - 14:44

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Dear Teacher, "The book resonates with the historical past and the contemporary politics." or "The book resonates with the historical past and contemporary politics." Do we require 'the' before 'contemporary politics'? Or we may write: "The book resonates with the historical past and the author's contemporary politics." Thanks. Raj

Hello raj.kumar123,

I expect that no article is required before 'contemporary politics', but it is impossible to be sure, and nor can we be sure if an article is required before 'historical past'.

The sentence is not in any kind of context, so we do not know what has been said before and what will follow. Articles are reference devices which can refer to things in the sentence or outside it (this is why, presumable, you have a definite article before 'book'). Here, we do not know if there is any reference outside of the sentence, and so cannot comment with any confidence.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter M, Thanks for your response. Could you please let me know how the insertion of article 'the' before ‘contemporary politics’ change the meaning? In other words, how do the following two sentences convey different meanings: a. "The book resonates with the historical past and the contemporary politics." b. "The book resonates with the historical past and contemporary politics." Raj