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.

Submitted by karentrewinnard on Thu, 27/08/2020 - 08:51

Permalink
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

Submitted by Avianna on Tue, 25/08/2020 - 10:00

Permalink
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

Submitted by dvdmrn on Mon, 24/08/2020 - 02:43

Permalink
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

Submitted by clintoncerejo on Fri, 14/08/2020 - 05:27

Permalink
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

Submitted by Jonathan R on Fri, 14/08/2020 - 14:11

In reply to by clintoncerejo

Permalink

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

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Thu, 13/08/2020 - 22:38

Permalink
(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

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Wed, 12/08/2020 - 22:58

Permalink
"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

Submitted by Mordhvaj on Tue, 11/08/2020 - 09:57

Permalink
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

Submitted by Mordhvaj on Wed, 29/07/2020 - 10:46

Permalink
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

Submitted by Robert Darling on Mon, 27/07/2020 - 15:47

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

Submitted by Robert Darling on Mon, 27/07/2020 - 02:02

Permalink
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.

Submitted by WantToLearn on Sun, 26/07/2020 - 09:16

Permalink
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

Submitted by Vsevolod_IV on Sat, 27/06/2020 - 22:32

Permalink
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

Submitted by p t balagopal on Fri, 19/06/2020 - 13:18

Permalink
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

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 19/06/2020 - 15:14

In reply to by p t balagopal

Permalink

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

Submitted by taile77 on Wed, 17/06/2020 - 20:34

Permalink
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

Submitted by Shameer on Sat, 06/06/2020 - 07:10

Permalink
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

Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 06/06/2020 - 14:58

In reply to by Shameer

Permalink

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.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 07/06/2020 - 07:17

In reply to by Shameer

Permalink

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

Submitted by Bobi Learner on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 21:12

Permalink
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

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Wed, 20/05/2020 - 17:13

Permalink
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

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Tue, 12/05/2020 - 17:19

Permalink
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

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

Submitted by H_L on Mon, 04/05/2020 - 17:17

Permalink
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
Profile picture for user Kirk

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 08:48

In reply to by H_L

Permalink

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

Submitted by amin.sharifi on Sat, 02/05/2020 - 22:12

Permalink
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

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Tue, 21/04/2020 - 05:30

Permalink
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

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Thu, 23/04/2020 - 14:35

In reply to by Peter M.

Permalink
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
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 24/04/2020 - 07:33

In reply to by raj.kumar123

Permalink

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