The definite article

The word "the" is one of the most common words in English. It is our only definite article. Nouns in English are preceeded by the definite article when the speaker believes that the listener already knows what he is referring to. The speaker may believe this for many different reasons, some of which are listed below.

 

When to use "the"

General rules

Use the to refer to something which has already been mentioned.

Examples
  • An unarmed man stole 1000$ from the bank on Monday. The thief hasn't been caught yet.
  • I was walking past Benny's Bakery when I decided to go into the bakery to get some bread.
  • There's a position available in my team. The job will involve some international travel.

Use the when you assume there is just one of something in that place, even if it has not been mentioned before.

Examples
  • We went on a walk in the forest yesterday.
  • Where is the bathroom?
  • Turn left and go to number 45. Our house is across from the Italian restaurant.
  • My father enjoyed the book you gave him.

Use the in sentences or clauses where you define or identify a particular person or object.

Examples
  • The man who wrote this book is famous.
  • I scratched the red car parked outside.
  • I live in the small house with a blue door.
  • He is the doctor I came to see.

Use the to refer to people or objects that are unique.

Examples
  • The sun rose at 6:17 this morning.
  • You can go anywhere in the world.
  • Clouds drifted across the sky.
  • The president will be speaking on TV tonight.
  • The CEO of Total is coming to our meeting.

Use the before superlatives and ordinal numbers.

Examples
  • This is the highest building in New York.
  • She read the last chapter of her new book first.
  • You are the tallest person in our class.
  • This is the third time I have called you today.

Use the with adjectives, to refer to a whole group of people.

Examples
  • The French enjoy cheese.
  • The elderly require special attention.
  • She has given a lot of money to the poor.

Use the with decades.

Examples
  • He was born in the seventies.
  • This is a painting from the 1820's.

Use the with clauses introduced by only

Examples
  • This is the only day we've had sunshine all week.
  • You are the only person he will listen to.
  • The only tea I like is black tea.
Proper nouns

Use the with names of geographical areas, rivers, mountain ranges, groups of islands, canals, and oceans.

Examples
  • They are travelling in the Arctic.
  • Our ship crossed the Atlantic in 7 days.
  • I will go on a cruise down the Nile.
  • Hiking across the Rocky Mountains would be difficult.

Use the with countries that have plural names

Examples
  • I have never been to the Netherlands.
  • Do you know anyone who lives in the Philippines?

Use the with countries that include the words "republic", "kingdom", or "states" in their names.

Examples
  • She is visiting the United States.
  • James is from the Republic of Ireland.

Use the with newspaper names.

Examples
  • I read it in the Guardian.
  • She works for the New York Times.

Use the with the names of famous buildings, works of art, museums, or monuments.

Examples
  • Have you been to the Vietnam Memorial?
  • We went to the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa.
  • I would like to visit the Eiffel Tower.
  • I saw King Lear at the Globe.

Use the with the names of hotels & restaurants, unless these are named after a person.

Examples
  • They are staying at the Hilton on 6th street.
  • We ate at the Golden Lion.

Use the with the names of families, but not with the names of individuals.

Examples
  • We're having dinner with the Smiths tonight.
  • The Browns are going to the play with us.

When not to use "the"

Do not use the with names of countries (except for the special cases above).

Examples
  • Germany is an important economic power.
  • He's just returned from Zimbabwe.

Do not use the with the names of languages.

Examples
  • French is spoken in Tahiti.
  • English uses many words of Latin origin.
  • Indonesian is a relatively new language.

Do not use the with the names of meals.

Examples
  • Lunch is my favorite meal.
  • I like to eat breakfast early.

Do not use the with people's names.

Examples
  • John is coming over later.
  • Mary Carpenter is my boss.

Do not use the with titles when combined with names.

Examples
  • Prince Charles is Queen Elizabeth's son.
  • President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

Do not use the after the 's possessive case

Examples
  • His brother's car was stolen.
  • Peter's house is over there.

Do not use the with professions

Examples
  • Engineering is a well-paid career.
  • He'll probably study medicine.

Do not use the with names of shops

Examples
  • I'll get the card at Smith's.
  • Can you go to Boots for me?

Do not use the with years

Examples
  • 1948 was a wonderful year.
  • He was born in 1995.

Do not use the with uncountable nouns

Examples
  • Rice is an important food in Asia.
  • Milk is often added to tea in England.
  • War is destructive.

Do not use the with the names of individual mountains, lakes and islands

Examples
  • Mount McKinley is the highest mountain in Alaska.
  • She lives near Lake Windermere.
  • Have you visited Long Island?

Do not use the with most names of towns, streets, stations and airports

Examples
  • Victoria Station is in the centre of London.
  • Can you direct me to Bond Street?
  • She lives in Florence.
  • They're flying into Heathrow.
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