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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Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Sat, 25/04/2020 - 12:14

In reply to by 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

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Sun, 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

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Fri, 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

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Wed, 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

Submitted by Sheryn Moon on Mon, 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

Submitted by _princess_ on Tue, 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

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Sat, 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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Submitted by Smiley1 on Sun, 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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Submitted by Smiley1 on Mon, 17/02/2020 - 02:48

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

Submitted by Tbm on Sun, 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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Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 17/02/2020 - 06:25

In reply to by 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

Submitted by muratt on Thu, 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

Submitted by Elvin777 on Fri, 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

Submitted by Momocompanyman on Tue, 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

Submitted by Maite23 on Tue, 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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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 20/11/2019 - 07:45

In reply to by Maite23

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Hello Maite23

The first one is correct.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maite23 on Wed, 20/11/2019 - 10:54

In reply to by 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

Submitted by Dor1989 on Fri, 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

Submitted by academie_19 on Fri, 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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Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 09/11/2019 - 13:58

In reply to by 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

Submitted by p t balagopal on Wed, 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?

Submitted by p t balagopal on Tue, 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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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 06/11/2019 - 07:50

In reply to by 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

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Sun, 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

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Sat, 12/10/2019 - 06:58

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Hi! In the following sentence- "there is no doubt in the innocent minds of the villagers when the construction of religious idea of knowledge and ignorance is based on the sacred text", do we need the article 'the' before 'religious idea'? If yes, why? Thanks.
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Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 12/10/2019 - 19:54

In reply to by raj.kumar123

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Hello raj.kumar123

Yes, I would use it there.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by muratt on Fri, 11/10/2019 - 14:27

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Hi, I'm learning nouns that are both countable and uncountable, and I would like to know if the below are correct: Love is what you need. I have a love of literature. Experience is important to gain. I have an excellent experience in sales. Time is very important nowadays. We had a great time whilst at work today. This country makes investment in education. My siblings had a good education in London. Knowledge in English is important at work. This position requires a knowledge of English.
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Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 11/10/2019 - 16:39

In reply to by muratt

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Hello muratt

Well done -- except for the fourth one, you've used the nouns correctly in those sentences. We don't say 'an experience in sales' but rather something like 'excellent sales experience' (where it is uncountable). An example of 'experience' as a count noun would be something like 'He studied in Istanbul for one year and had a great experience'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Keimo on Thu, 10/10/2019 - 12:45

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Which one it is --> The Customer or Customer, in case customer is defined in a contract text ("Customer means ...."). After that do you use "The Customer" or just Customer since it is already defined in a contract?

Hello Keimo,

The normal use in legal documents such as contracts is The Customer (The Employee, The Client, The Contractor etc.), and this is true right through the document.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kaisoo93 on Fri, 04/10/2019 - 03:03

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Hi Sirs, 'The future belongs to the unmanned flying machines.' Or 'The future belongs to unmanned flying machines'. Why? Thank you
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 04/10/2019 - 06:00

In reply to by Kaisoo93

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Hello Kaisoo93,

The use of articles is generally dependent on the context.

In your example, if you are simply making a prediction about the future in general (the most likely option) then no article is needed. The reference is to unmanned flying machines in general, not to a particular group of unmanned flying machines in contrast to another group of unmanned flying machines:

The future belongs to unmanned flying machines.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by man on Tue, 24/09/2019 - 12:14

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Hi, I would like to know why we add (the) before (weekend) in the first sentence, while in the second one we didn't add it before (weekdays): That is at the weekend. The last admission is at noon on weekdays.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 25/09/2019 - 08:35

In reply to by man

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Hi man,

'The weekend' is a particular period of time. The equivalent (Monday to Friday) would be 'during the week', which also uses the definite article.

'Weekdays' is just a plural noun, not the name of a period of time. You could also say 'on Tuesdays' or 'on Fridays', for example, also without an article.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Tue, 24/09/2019 - 01:04

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Hi! In the following sentence- "there is no doubt in the innocent minds of the villagers when the construction of religious idea of knowledge and ignrance is based on the Bible", do we need the article 'the' before 'religious idea'? If yes, why? Thanks.