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 Tue, 24/09/2019 - 00:58

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Hi ! Is 'retribution' a countable noun? Can we say 'It was a divine retribution'? Many people use the article 'a' with 'retribution'. Please guide me, Regards, Nakul

Submitted by Mah on Fri, 20/09/2019 - 08:30

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Hi. My question is should we leave out definite article the after the word 'both' in the examples below: 1) Both the women are French. 2) Both of the women are French. I come across examples like these and not sure if the Example 1 is correct. Thank you.

Hi Mah,

The sentence is fine both with and without the article, so you can say

Both the women are French.

Both women are French.

However, when 'both of' is used, the article is required:

Both of the women are French.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by LeyM on Mon, 02/09/2019 - 08:47

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hello team BC, i'm having doubts regarding the definite article with similar parts of sentence, hope you will help me to figure this one out: It differs from the previous one by allowance for the methane throttling effect, moisture evaporation and the coal reaction surface. I think 'throttling' and 'evaporation' are sort of from the same category and 'reaction surface' isn't so i use the definite article with it and omit it before the evaporation. Is it correct?

Hello LeyM,

I'm afraid we don't check or correct sentences for our users like this. Although I know it would be very helpful, we are only a small team and can't offer such help to all our users. In addition, questions like this are dependent on the broader context rather than just the individual sentence. We'd need to read the text around this and see what was mentioned before, for example, to give a confident answer.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rai on Sun, 18/08/2019 - 14:40

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Hi Is it correct to use definite article with scientific inventions like telephone, mobile, radio, wheel? Thanks
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Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 19/08/2019 - 19:48

In reply to by Rai

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Hello Rai

That really depends on the context, but yes, 'the' is often used when speaking about an invention.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Wan Fatisyah b… on Thu, 15/08/2019 - 14:16

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Hello Team BC, I'm not sure if we can repeat 'the' per sentence. e.g - Please carry the large and the heavier box to the van Correction ? The larger and the heavier box to the van? I'm not sure. I really got confuse when we discuss on this.

Hello Wan Fatisyah binti Wan Yahaya

Are you talking about just one box? If so, I think 'the larger, heavier box' would be best. 

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Pratima Kapure on Thu, 08/08/2019 - 17:21

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Can you help me? Which one sentence is correct.. I colour the apple red I colour the orange orange This sentences are from 3rd std..book..

Hello Pratima Kapure

They both look correct to me.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mah on Sun, 04/08/2019 - 02:44

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Hi. Can you please help me identify which is correct? 1) I like watching "Little Mouse and Friends". 2) I like watching the "Little Mouse and Friends". 3) I like watching Little Mouse and Friends. 4) I like watching the Little Mouse and Friends. "Little Mouse and Friends" is a programme on TV. I'm not sure if quotation marks and definite article the should be used. Thank you

Hello Mah

2 and 4 are not correct -- no definite article is needed here. I'm afraid I can't say whether 1 or 3 is better, as this is something there is no agreement on. If I were writing this, I would put Little Mouse and Friends in italics (Little Mouse and Friends) and as a second option would write it like 1.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Panos on Thu, 11/07/2019 - 18:04

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Hello, When I receive an email and the other person states that: ''I have not received the letter yet'' and I reply: ''The letters should be delivered within 14 days at property's address''. Is the meaning different or/and is grammatically wrong to not include ''the'' before the word ''property's''? Many Thanks in advance.
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Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 12/07/2019 - 09:21

In reply to by Panos

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Hello Panos

It sounds to me as if the article 'the' should go before 'property's address' here. Since both you and the other person know which property is being referred to, you should use the definite article 'the'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mah on Wed, 10/07/2019 - 04:31

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Should I put definite article 'the' in front of the name of a course? Ex: I've just attended the Be Safe Preparation Course.

Hello Mah

Here the general rules for using articles apply. In other words, if you think the person you are speaking or writing to already knows about the course, then you should use 'the'. On the other hand, if the course hasn't been mentioned yet in your conversation, then 'a' would be more appropriate. Does that make sense?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by miswan on Mon, 01/07/2019 - 09:26

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Hello Sir, Can you help me to identify which one is correct? "From Information Centre at G floor, follow the "Sky Walk" sign to Entrance 1." or "From THE Information Centre at G floor, follow the "Sky Walk" sign to Entrance 1." or "From THE Information Centre at G floor, follow the "Sky Walk" sign to THE Entrance 1." Thank You

Hello miswan

I would say the second one, though I would say 'on the G floor' instead of 'at G floor'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Magnus on Mon, 27/05/2019 - 18:53

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Hello! I have come across the expression "to become king" and would like to know if it is obligatory to add a "the" if you put an adjective (e.g. new) in front of the noun (king) or if you specify the noun a bit more (e.g. of-phase). Here are my examples: 1. He became (the) new king. 2. He became (the) k[K]ing of England. 3. He became (the) new king of England. I would be very grateful if you would send a reply!
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 28/05/2019 - 06:21

In reply to by Magnus

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Hello Magnus, 'The' is required in the first and third sentences. In the second sentence, 'the' is required if 'king' is not capitalised. If 'King' is capitalised then 'the' can (optionally) be omitted as 'King of England' as a title can be used without the article. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Aditi on Thu, 16/05/2019 - 16:27

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Sir, Can you please tell before which instruments do we use ‘the’
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 17/05/2019 - 07:51

In reply to by Aditi

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Hello Aditi, Do you mean musical instruments? If so, then when talking about what we play or like then we use 'the' before all instruments: > I play the trumpet > I like the clarinet > I don't play the drums ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Sun, 05/05/2019 - 05:45

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If only one external expert is to be invited for a meeting of the board. Which of the following sentences should be used to invite the expert: "You are requested to join us as a professional expert" or "You are requested to join us as THE professional expert"?
Hello raj.kumar123, Both forms are possible, grammatically speaking. The expert is one of many in the world (so 'a' is logical) but is also the only one in the group (so 'the' is logical). I would say that 'the' makes the situation clearest to the person receiving the invitation. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Seham Aly on Sun, 31/03/2019 - 09:44

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Thank you so much, It's clear now.

Submitted by Seham Aly on Thu, 28/03/2019 - 12:05

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Hello Sir, Really, I confuse about this sentence: I have ........... money but more time than i did ten years ago.( a little - little- less ) The answer should be ( a little or less ) ?? and why ?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 29/03/2019 - 06:56

In reply to by Seham Aly

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Hello Seham Aly, The correct answer is 'less'. The reason is that the sentence uses 'but' to contrast two changes: 'less money but more time'. Only 'less' fits this contrast as the other options show quantity (how much) but not change (more or less). Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrew.int on Mon, 11/03/2019 - 05:04

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Hello Sir Re: definite article 'the' I heard it on the radio. Is it alright to say I saw it on the TV or I saw it on TV but Switch off the TV. Please let me know. Thank you. Regards Lal
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Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 11/03/2019 - 06:44

In reply to by Andrew.int

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Hello Lal,

You can say

I saw it on TV or I saw it on the TV

 

However, when we refer to the TV as a machine we need to use an article. This is generally the definite article because we are talking about a particular TV (our own or the one in the room).

I turned the TV off.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hari4171 on Thu, 07/03/2019 - 10:48

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Sir, Iam confused with these statements, please clarify the exact difference and the usage 1. Definite article THE is used to say something about all the things referred to by a noun Eg: the wolf is not a dangerous animal 2. We use a/an with a singular noun to say something about all things of that kind Eg: A dog likes to eat meat My question is if I say A wolf is not a dangerous animal, it means all wolves are not dangerous animals.. Then, what is the difference between using A or THE before wolf when both are having same meaning Thanks in advance
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 08/03/2019 - 06:59

In reply to by Hari4171

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Hello Hari4171,

We can use the indefinite article, the definite article and the zero article for general meaning, but there are some differences between them. I'll explain this first, and then addess your particular example.

 

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.

 

With regard to your example, I think certainly the wolf and wolves are possible forms. The indefinite article depends upon the point of view of the speaker. If you consider non-dangerous behaviour to be part of what it is to be a wolf then a wolf is also possible.

 

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

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by adelina on Sun, 03/03/2019 - 18:38

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Hello, I have a quick question. when I speak about Buckingham Palace, do I use the definite article?

Hello adelina,

Buckingham Palace is a proper name and so there is no article used before it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sideout02 on Thu, 21/02/2019 - 14:19

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Hello. I have a question about the word "the" in certain circumstances. Below is an example. 1. I cringe when I see adults with grammar skills of a child. 2. I cringe when I see adults with the grammar skills of a child. Is the use of "the" in the 2nd sentence required or optional? Thanks.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 22/02/2019 - 07:57

In reply to by Sideout02

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Hello Sideout02,

The definite article is required. The noun is grammar skills and the phrase of a child defines which grammar skills, so a definite article is required.

If the defining phrase is omitted then we are talking about grammar skills in general and no article is needed:

It makes me happy to see young children with (good/advanced) grammar skills.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Devesh Raj on Tue, 29/01/2019 - 07:44

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Hello sir, I want to know the difference in these sentences as they are denoting a class and one statement contains 'the' and other one not 1. Dogs are faithful. 2. The apples are red. Thank you

Hello Devesh Raj

Peter wrote a lengthy explanation of this in another comment -- please follow the link to see his explanation there.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sam61 on Mon, 28/01/2019 - 00:36

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Hi, how is " the " in the following sentence justified if the listener doesn't know anything about the celebration: I like the way they celebrate their festival.

Hi sam61

Presumably here there is one specific way they celebrate their festival (the second bullet point above), though I'd need to know the full context to be completely sure. I expect it's for the reason I've mentioned, though.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sam61 on Thu, 17/01/2019 - 14:08

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He is a type of guy who... He is the type of guy who... Do they mean the same thing?

Hello sam61,

I don't think we would use the first example (with 'a'). The second example (with 'the') is the standard form, in my view.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by anie1 on Sun, 13/01/2019 - 10:59

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I would like to ask if the following sentences are correct: Anyone who does not use Social media nowadays is behind times and needs to catch up 1. Is it a polite way to say something like this? 2.is it Social media or the Social media?

Hello agie,

No article is needed before 'Social media' but the sentence does not need an article elsewhere:

Anyone who does not use Social media nowadays is behind the times and needs to catch up.

 

The sentence is not impolite in terms of the language but it is quite a strong opinion to hold and express. You could make it less direct by making it clear you are expressing an opinion:

I feel that anyone...

I think that anyone...

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sam61 on Thu, 10/01/2019 - 09:05

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Hi, A person to whom I almost gave money turned out to be a fraud. The person to whom I almost gave money turned out to be a fraud. Do they mean the same thing? Does the first sentence also mean that I almost gave money to multiple people and he/she is just one of them? Does the 2nd sentence mean that the reader/listener knows about that person?
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 10/01/2019 - 13:49

In reply to by sam61

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Hello sam61

The speaker chooses 'a' or 'the' depending on whether they have already mentioned this fraudulent person to the listener or not. If the speaker has already spoken about this person, then 'the' is the best option. If not, 'a' is the best choice.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team