definite article: the


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 hearer/reader knows exactly what we are referring to.

• because there is only one:

The Pope is visiting Russia.
The moon is very bright tonight.
The Shah of Iran was deposed in 1979.

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 place or in those surroundings:


We live in a small village 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 in the blue shirt over there.  = (the boy I am pointing at)


• because we have already mentioned it:

A woman who fell 10 metres from High Peak was lifted to safety by a helicopter. The woman fell while climbing.
The rescue is the latest in a series of incidents on High Peak. In January last year two men walking on the peak were killed in a fall. 

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.(= Joe can play any piano)
She is learning the guitar.(= She is learning to play any 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.

• With adjectives like rich, poor, elderly, 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.

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 Nepal; 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; the Atlantic Ocean; the Amazon; the Panama Canal.


The Times; The Washington Post

• well known buildings or works of art:

the Empire State Building; the Taj Mahal; the Mona Lisa; the Sunflowers


the United Nations; the Seamen’s Union

hotels, pubs and restaurants*:

the Ritz; the Ritz Hotel; the King’s Head; the Déjà Vu

*Note: We do not use the definite article if the name of the hotel or restaurant is the name of the owner, e.g.,Brown’s; Brown’s Hotel; Morel’s; Morel’s Restaurant, etc.


the Obamas; the Jacksons


Hi, I'm confused about "the".

1. Could you please tell me about article usage for proper nouns, such as names of companies, organizations, scenic spots, brands and some particular items?

2. I don't know if it should exist in the following sentences.
A. "The" Shandong Jinhe Investment Group is located in Weifang, Shandong Provice, China.
B. "The" Qingdao Economic & Technical Development Zone is approved by the State Council.
C. "The" Jimo Rice Wine is made from millet, yeast and water. (Jimo is a county-level city of China.)
D. "The" Jiaozhou Bay is loacted in "the" Qingdao city.
E. "The" China Eastern launched three new domestic routes. (China Eastern is a airline company)
F. in "the" rail transit industry

Thanks for help.

Hi Shirley2727,

The rules for these are on this page. Look for the section headed 'The definite article with names'.

In answer to your other question, we would use 'the' in sentences A, B and F, but not in the others.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks very much.
But, I'm still confused about the reason:
1. Why don't we need the "the" in C,D or E? Because they are short and can be deemed as one proper noun, such as "China" and "Water"?
Are there any rules to classify those names? For example:
A. "the"+common noun+common noun, e.g. the Summer Palace and the People's Hall
B. "the"+adj.+common noun, e.g. the United States and the Great Wall
The above "the" is a must, but for
C. proper noun+common noun, e.g. Jimo Rice Wine, Qingdao City and the Shandong Jinhe Investment Group.
They are different, why?

2. What about the following names?
A. "the" Yale University
B. "the" Shandong University of Science and Technology
C. "the" Beijing Railway Station
D. "the" Qingdao Municipal Government

Many thanks!

Hello Shirley2727,

Much of articles use is a question of convention rather than absolute rules. Some types of phrases are treated as names, while others are treated as descriptive terms. Sometimes this can change. For example, years ago people referred to 'the Ukraine'; now the correct term is 'Ukraine'. Your questions show that you are looking for fixed rules of the type 'x+x+y = always no article', which unfortunately is not always the way the language works.

'Jimo Rice Wine' would be treated as a proper noun: the name of a kind of food or drink. We do not use a definite article with such names ('Scotch whiskey', 'Cumberland sausage', 'Danish bacon')

'Jiaozhou Bay' and 'Qingdao' are both proper nouns. Geographical terms have their own patterns and while rivers have a definite article ('The Thames', 'The Yellow River'), bays generally do not ('Morecame Bay', 'San Francisco Bay'), though exceptions exist ('The Chesapeake Bay'). Note that it is different when the name is a descriptive name, such as in the form 'the Bay of ... ('The Bay of Biscay', 'The Gulf of Mexico').

'China Eastern' is a company name, and these do not generally have articles ('British Airways', 'Coca-Cola', 'Mitsubishi Motors'). Again, some exceptions exist ('The Ford Motor Company').

In your other examples, the most likely articles use would be:

Yale University

The Shandong University of Science and Technology

Beijing Railway Station

The Qingdao Municipal Government

As you can see and as I said initially, the use of articles is complex and often based upon convention rather than fixed rules.

I think you can also see that this is a very long answer, and that is the reason for the delay in responding to your question. Our role here on LearnEnglish is primarily to look after the site and to update the materials on it; answering questions and explaining language matters is something we do when we have time. Questions which are long, which contain multiple examples and which ask for detailed explanations are not answered immediately as we simply do not have the time to do so. If your question is not answered quickly please be patient rather than posting multiple requests for an answer. It does not speed the process up - quite the opposite, in fact.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Sorry for my impatience. I'm new here, so I'm not sure if every question will be answered.

Thanks for your help! It means a lot to me!

Best wishes!

Could you explain me diference between "A dog likes to eat meat." and "The wolf is not really a dangerous animal." Wolf and dog are nouns but also all things of a group. Thank you

hello teachers!
how we can say this word
europe or the europe
thank you

Hello erga tafaj,

Most names of countries and continents do not have articles, so we say 'Europe' (with a capital letter).

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Can you explain why a definite article is used in this sentence:

The difference in attitude was very noticeable. (for difference)

but not in this one:

Growth was higher than we expected. (for growth)


Hello embajadores,

In the first sentence we know which difference we are talking about - the difference in attitude. In the second sentence we do not define which growth we are talking about, and so (as growth is an uncountable noun) there is no article. We would use 'the' if we say which growth we have in mind:

The growth in Brazil/in 2014/in the housing sector was higher than we expected.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team