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 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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

In reply to by p t balagopal

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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

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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

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Sir, Why do we use the definite article "The" before the word "British" in this sentence. The British drink a lot of tea.
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Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 06/06/2020 - 14:58

In reply to by Shameer

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

In reply to by Shameer

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

In reply to by 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

Submitted by amin.sharifi on Sat, 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

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Tue, 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

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

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

In reply to by 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

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