We use “the” when there is only one of the thing being referred to. There may be many of a particular noun, but in the context of the particular conversation or sentence, there is only one.
Please can I borrow the car tonight? (= the car that belongs to the family)
Our house is next to the library.(= the only library in town)
When I visited my aunt, we went to the beach everyday. (= the beach near my aunt’s house)
Please put the kettle on (= there is only one kettle in the kitchen)
The heart sends blood around the body (hearts send blood around the body)
The grizzly bear is a very dangerous animal. (grizzly bears are very dangerous animals)
The giant panda is only found in China. (giant pandas are only found in China)
We watched the new Tom Cruise movie last night.
I’d recommend the soup of the day.
Always include “the” when learning and memorizing superlative adjectives.
the biggest ocean
the most famous actress
the slowest runner
the least worried
The Kalahari Desert
The Dead Sea
The Nile River
The Atlantic Ocean
The Middle East
The South Pole
She plays the organ at church.
I am learning to play the guitar.
The Statue of Liberty
The London Eye
The Mona Lisa
The Taj Mahal
The Bar Hemingway
I saw it on the news.
How long does it take on the train?
Call the ambulance!
The United Nations (The UN)
The World Health Organization (The WHO)
The World Wide Fund for Nature Inc. (The WWF)
We can add the definite article to an adjective to refer to a specific group of people that the adjective would define.
They collect blankets to help the homeless (people who do not have a home)
I think the rich should pay more taxes. (people who are rich)
Life can be very hard for the poor. (people who are poor)
Also include articles with jobs - for example “a” for “a teacher” or “a nurse”. For particular people in particular positions, we use “the”:
The CEO of Microsoft
The Spice Girls
The Rolling Stones
The pronunciation of “the” depends on the first letter of the word it precedes. If the noun begins with a consonant sound then the “e” in “the” will sound like “uh” - as in “th-uh tree” (the tree). But if the noun begins with a vowel sound, “the" will be pronounced as “thee” - as in “th-ee egg” (the egg).
Here are some fun facts, jokes and other usages relating to our definite article. As with any language, English is full of idiosyncrasies and strange characteristics or rules. As an English learner, this will either annoy or entertain you… I’d encourage you to choose the latter :)
“‘The’ is the most commonly used word in the English language, occurring nearly 62,000 times in every million words written or uttered--or about once in every 16 words…” - Ben Yagoda
"What do Alexander the Great and Winnie the Pooh have in common? "They have the same middle name." - Ted Cohen
With double comparatives: These are mostly used to communicate expanding or diminishing returns and to emphasize the significance of doing or not doing a specific action.
The more you study, the more you learn.
The less money I spend, the less I have to worry about saving.
The richer the person is, the more privilege he enjoys.
A common English expression:
“The bigger they are, the harder they fall”
And a famous quote
"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it." - Thomas Jefferson
"Americans do have a thing for the word the. We say 'in the hospital' and 'in the spring'; the British sensibly omit the article. They favor collective or purely regional sports team names, such as Manchester United or Arsenal, while we have the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Angels" - Ben Yagoda
Indicate why we use “the” in the examples below:
I usually get to work on foot and then come home on the bus.
The universe is nearly 14 billion years old.
The dove is a symbol of peace in many different cultures.
I wish I could play the piano.
Simon is probably the best rugby player in the county.
Excuse me, where's the bathroom?
A: I'm reading a great book at the moment. B: Really? What's the book about?
Reasons to choose from:
There’s only one
There’s only one in the context
It refers to a system or service
It’s with a superlative adjective
It refers to a musical instrument
It’s been mentioned already
It refers to a whole group of things
Complete the sentences below with “a”/”an” or “the”
1. I love going on holiday to ____ Maldives.
2. Did you watch ____ new Mel Gibson film on TV last night?
3. I’ve had ____ terrible headache all day.
4. The book is about someone who lives on ____ small island.
5. She lives in Scotland now, but is from ____ Netherlands.
6. I’d love to go sailing along ____ Ganges river.
7. Who is that woman in ____ photograph?
Exercise 3: Fill the gaps
Complete the joke with the correct articles: “a” or “the”.
One day, ____ man went into _____ pet shop.
'I'd like ____ parrot that talks,' he said.
'I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to teach your parrot to speak.'
So he chose ___ parrot and took it home with him.
Two weeks later, he returned to ____ pet shop.
'My parrot still doesn't speak,' he said.
'I'm sorry, sir. Buy this mirror, and ____ parrot will look at himself and talk.'
____ man bought ____ mirror and went away.
Two weeks later, he returned one final time.
'My parrot is dead,' he said.
'I'm sorry, sir. But tell me, before he died, did he say anything?'
'Yes, he did, but just ___ single word.'
'Really? What was ____ word?'
- Nouns carry no gender!
- “The” refers to a specific noun - e.g. the tree fell on my house
- “The” may also refer to plural - e.g. the trees in the forest…
- “The” = the only one (on the table, in the room etc.)
- “The” defines what we are talking about
There are a number of ways to practice the use of articles and to improve your English in general. Here are a few:
1. Keep speaking! Join a community group, sports or art club where there are English people and make friends :)
2. Read, read, read! I'll say no more!
3. Take an English course to accelerate this process!
Exercise 1: Reasons for “the”
Exercise 2: Complete the sentences
Exercise 3: Fill the gaps