Everything to Know About “The”

definite article the

Unsurprisingly, the is one of the most common words in the English language, and we use it all the time — see, we just used it three times in one sentence! This lesson will teach you everything you need to know about using the.

How to pronounce the

There are two ways to pronounce this word. The first way is /ðə/, which is probably what you are more familiar with. We use the /ðə/ form when the following word starts with a consonant sound, for example:

/ðə/ = the church, the trailer

The second way to is /ðiː/, which we use when the word that follows the starts with a vowel sound:

/ðiː/ = the umbrella, the airplane

We also use /ðiː/ for emphasis:

We are THE /ðiː/ champions!

It is also sometimes used while a speaker is thinking:

I will have the /ðiː/… burger!

How to use the

Let’s look at some basic rules for using the. We use it:

1. To talk about a noun that has already been discussed and is now known to the reader or listener:

  • I just got a new shirt. The shirt is blue.

2. To refer to a specific noun often used with a qualifier:

  • Don’t put your bag on the dirty chair.

3. To identify a unique noun when there is only one:

  • The moon was full and bright in the night sky.

Advanced rules for using the

Before getting into the specifics, it’s important to know that we can use the with count and noncount nouns.

Count nouns are nouns that you can physically count, like books or cups. Noncount nouns cannot be counted; things like mild, tea, shampoo, astronomy, etc.

Let’s look at the a bit more in-depth to understand how to use it properly.

Use the:

1. Before superlative adjectives and adverbs:

  • She sings the loudest among all the choir members.
  • The Ferrari is the fastest car on the track.

2. With clauses and noun phrases introduced by “only”:

  • She is the only candidate who has the experience we need for this job.
  • What is the only way you can get to the top of the mountain?

3. With plural country names (typically ending in ‘s’):

  • The Netherlands is famous for its tulip fields and windmills.
  • What are some of the popular tourist destinations in the Philippines?

4. With country names that include “republic”, “kingdom”, “union” or “state”

  • Have you ever been to the Czech Republic? I heard the beer there is fantastic.
  • My friend just got back from a trip to the United Kingdom, she said the weather was surprisingly good.

5. With ordinal numbers used as qualifiers:

  • I’m going to give it my all the second time around.
  • The fifth movie in the franchise is coming out next year.

5. Before compass directions:

  • The wind is coming from the south, so it’s going to be a warm day.
  • The desert stretches for hundreds of miles to the west of the town.

6. To refer to geographical locations:

  • I wish I could travel to the Middle East someday and see all the ancient ruins and architecture.
  • Have you ever been to a country that’s located on the equator?

7. To talk about certain geographical features, like:

oceansthe Atlantic Ocean
seasthe Mediterranean Sea
riversthe Amazon River
canalsthe Suez Canal
mountain rangesthe Rocky Mountains
desertsthe Sahara Desert
foreststhe Daintree Rainforest
peninsulasthe Yucatan Peninsula

8. Before famous buildings and well-known works of art:

  • Have you heard of the Taj Mahal in India?
  • The Statue of Liberty in New York City is a must-see attraction.

9. With adjectives that refer to specific groups of people:

  • The rich in their fancy cars always think they’re better than everyone else.
  • The hippie dudes with their long hair and tie-dye shirts always seem so chill.

10. With family names, when referred to as a group:

  • I heard the Williams family just had a new baby.
  • The Johnsons are having a barbecue this weekend.

11. With specific times:

  • In the evening, I enjoy going for a walk to relax.
  • On the 31st of October, people celebrate Halloween.

12. To talk about time periods:

  • The rise of industrial capitalism and the abolition of slavery occurred in the 19th century.
  • The 2000s were marked by significant geopolitical events.

13. To say something about all the things referred to by a singular countable noun:

  • My brother plays the guitar. (not a specific guitar, but the type of instrument)
  • The rabbit is a symbol of fertility and rebirth in many cultures and religions. (not a specific rabbit, rabbits in general)

14. Before organizations:

  • The World Health Organization is responsible for coordinating international efforts to improve public health.
  • The research was conducted in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund.

15. When talking about hotels, restaurants, and pubs:

  • Have you tried the fish and chips at The Anchor, that pub down the street?
  • The lobster at The Oyster Bar is amazing, but it can be a bit pricey.

*We don’t use the when the name of an establishment starts with a name:

Let’s grab a bite at Joe’s Diner, they have the best burgers in town.

16. With newspapers:

  • Did you see the article in The Guardian about the new climate change policies?
  • I always check The Washington Post for updates on the latest political news.

When not to use the:

1. With general plural countable and uncountable nouns:

  • I always forget to buy eggs when I go grocery shopping.
  • I spilled milk on my shirt this morning, and now I smell like a cow.

2. With most names, like:

names of peopleI’m meeting John for lunch today.
names of holidaysAre you going to celebrate Christmas with your family?
names of companiesHave you ever heard of Coca-Cola?
names of universitiesI’m taking a summer course at Yale University.
*Use the when the university name starts with the word “university”, like:
I just got accepted to the University of Michigan, and I’m so excited to start in the fall.
most country names (except for the ones mentioned earlier!)My grandparents were born and raised in Portugal.
Have you ever been to Japan before?
names of cities, towns, and stateMy cousin moved to San Francisco after college and loves it there.
I grew up in a small town in rural Wisconsin.
names of streetsI took a walk down Ocean Boulevard and watched the sunset over the ocean.
*The exception to this rule is “the high street”, which refers to the main street in a city or town that has many shops and restaurants:
I love shopping on the high street because there are so many stores to choose from.
names of lakesI love spending my summers swimming in Michigan Lake.
names of single mountainsMy family and I went on a skiing trip to Mount Hood last winter.
names of continentsMany people dream of going on a safari in Africa to see wild animals.

3. When talking about academic subjects:

  • I’m studying psychology this semester and I find it really fascinating.

4. When discussing sports:

  • I love playing basketball at the park on weekends.

5. When referring to languages or talking about someone’s nationality:

  • My friend speaks French fluently.
  • I’m half Japanese and half American.

*The only exception is when you use the language as a qualifier:

  • I’m studying the English language.

6. When we have a noun followed by a number:

  • She has been practicing piano for three hours.

7. With acronyms:

  • He’s a member of NATO.

*You will use the with initialisms:

  • The FBI arrested the suspect in a nationwide manhunt.

Becoming familiar with the common places and locations that do not necessitate the use of an article usually comes with experience. Nonetheless, here are a few of the most frequently encountered ones:

homeHe works from home.
workHe enjoys going to work.
school, universityWe have a lot of homework from school.
She’s already enrolled in university.
churchHe’s getting married at church.
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