Articles: 'the' or no article

Articles: 'the' or no article

Do you know when you need to use the in common phrases and place names? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see when the is and isn't used.

I'm going to bed.
I walk to work.
My children are going to start school.
I visited the school yesterday.
Mount Everest is in the Himalayas.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Articles 2: Grammar test 1

Grammar explanation

Here are some ways we use articles in common phrases and place names.

Common phrases

We don't usually use an article in expressions with bed, work and home.

go to bed / be in bed
go to work / be at work / start work / finish work
go home / be at home / get home / stay at home

We also don't normally use an article in expressions with school, university, prison and hospital.

start school / go to school / be at school
go to university / be at university
be sent to prison / go to prison / be in prison
go to hospital / be in hospital

But we usually use the if someone is just visiting the place, and not there as a student/prisoner/patient, etc.

My son has started school now. I went to the school to meet his teacher.
I went to the prison a lot when I was a social worker.
I'm at the hospital. My sister has just had a baby.

Place names

We don't normally use an article for continents, most countries, cities, towns, lakes, mountains or universities. So, we say:

Africa, Asia, Europe
India, Ghana, Peru, Denmark
Addis Ababa, Hanoi, New York, Moscow
Lake Victoria, Lake Superior, Lake Tanganyika
Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus
Cardiff University, Harvard University, Manchester University

Some countries are different. Country names with United have the. There are other countries which are exceptions too. So, we say:

the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States of America
the Bahamas, the Gambia

Seas and oceans, mountain ranges and rivers have the:

the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Mediterranean
the Andes, the Himalayas, the Alps
the Nile, the Amazon, the Yangtze

Universities with of in the title also have the:

the University of Cape Town, the University of Delhi, the University of Tokyo

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Articles 2: Grammar test 2

Average: 4.1 (72 votes)
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.

Submitted by Sameer Mankoo on Tue, 20/04/2021 - 14:42

Why we used 'the' with bahamas? 5. She was born in Japan, but she went to '0' university in ' the ' Bahamas.

Hi Sameer Mankoo,

It's because it's a group of islands. We often use 'the' with groups of islands, e.g. the Bahamas, the Maldivesthe Philippines, the Channel Islands.


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Jonathan R,
I just wanted to ask why we don't use the before Japan as Japan is also a group of islands,I also understand we can say the Japanese archipelago.


Hi Kalden,
Good question. It's simply because that group of islands has come to be called Japan, rather than any other name. Although we often use 'the' and a plural noun to name groups of islands, this is a pattern of usage rather than a universal rule (i.e., it's often true but not always true). The name for a place may be decided by many different factors (e.g., political, historical) as well as geographical ones.
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan,
Thank you for the explanation.I had a question about why the article "the" is used in cometh the hour cometh the man ;the hour is upon us and let me have the honour of presenting this award to.

Hi Kalden,

This is an idiom which means something like 'when the situation is desperate, a hero will appear' or 'a person will rise to meet the challenge'. The definite article is used in 'the hour' because it refers to a specific situation or time (i.e., the desperate situation that somebody is facing, or the time when action is needed). Similarly, it is used in 'the man' because it refers to a specific heroic person. (Exactly which situation and person are referred to, of course, depend on the exact context in which somebody uses this idiom. For example, imagine my brother needs to take an exam, and he's worried about whether he'll pass or not. I could say this idiom, meaning something like, 'when you take the exam, you'll rise to the challenge and do well'. The specific situation is the exam, and the specific person is my brother.)

Somebody would say 'the hour is upon us' to show that an event is starting or about to start, or that now is the time to do a particular action. So, 'the hour' refers to the specific time of that event/action. In your last example, it is a specific honour - 'the honour of presenting this award'.

I hope that helps.

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hussainhxh on Tue, 13/04/2021 - 23:41

Good explanation

Submitted by roberto90 on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 09:24

why THE is the correct answer in this exercise? If he usually goes to the prison to teach classes. shouldn't be hyphen? 4. Every Friday my grandad goes to THE prison to teach a maths class.