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The definite article – the

1.1 The definite article – when to use it.

We use THE before a noun when the other person knows (or can work out) which thing we are referring to.

  • Did you lock the door? (both know which door is meant)
  • I took a taxi. (the listener does not know which taxi is being referred to)

The listener may know which thing we are talking about because:

      1. We have mentioned it before

  • They have two children: a boy and a girl. The boy is 10 and the girl is 14.

      2. We say which one we mean

  • The girl over there in the red dress.

      3. It is clear from the situation

  • The children are in the garden (which know which children and which garden)

 4. There is only one

  • The sun is very hot today

1.2 The definite article – when to use it.

The definite article the is the same for all genders in singular and in plural.

  • the boy
  • the girl
  • the dogs
  • the chairs

1.3 The definite article – how to pronounce it.

The is pronounced [ði:] if the following word begins with a vowel, and [ðə] if the following word begins with a consonant.

/ði:/ /ðə/
the following word starts with a spoken vowel

  • the English book
  • the interesting picture
  • the old man
the following word starts with a spoken consonant

  • the book
  • the picture
  • the man
The choice between /ði:/ and /ðə/ is based on pronunciation not spelling. Compare the following words:
Here /ʌ/ is pronounced at the beginning of the word → the uncle
Here /j/ is pronounced at the beginning of the word → the university

We have listed some examples in the following table so you can see when we use the definite article and when we don’t.

without the definite article with the definite article – the
general words (indefinite)

  • Life is complicated.
  • Books are expensive.
general words (definite)

  • I read a book on the life of Mozart.
  • I like the books on your table.
names of persons on the singular, relatives

  • Susan and John live in London.
  • Mum lives in Glasgow.
family names in the plural

  • The Browns live in Manchester.
public buildings, institutions, means of transport (indefinite)

  • Petra doesn’t like college.
  • I go to work by train.
  • He was sent to prison
public buildings, institutions, means of transport (definite)

  • The college where Petra studies is old.
  • The train to Brighton leaves at 8.30.
  • The prison in Holloway is for women.
names of countries in the singular, mountains, continents, towns

  • Scotland
  • Canada
  • Mount Everest
  • Mount Kilimanjaro
  • Asia
  • Europe
  • Berlin
  • Sydney
names of countries in the plural, mountain ranges, regions

  • the United Kingdom
  • the Netherlands
  • the Himalayas
  • the Rocky Mountains
  • the Alps
  • the Far East
  • the west of England
single islands

  • Malta
  • Bermuda
  • Sicily
groups of islands

  • the Maldives
  • the British Isles
  • the West Indies
parks, lakes, streets

  • Hyde Park
  • Green Park
  • Lake Michigan
  • Loch Lomond
  • 53rd Street
  • Regent Street
names with of-phrase, names in plural, well-known buildings, oceans, seas, rivers, musical instruments, newspapers

  • the Tower of London 
  • the Statue of Liberty
  • the Great Lakes
  • the Empire State Building
  • the Isle of Man
  • the Indian (Ocean)
  • the Mediterranean (Sea)
  • the Thames
  • the Suez Canal
  • the guitar
  • the New York Times
months, days of the week (indefinite)

  • The weekend starts on Friday.
  • January and February are the most popular months for skiing holidays.
months, days of the week (definite)

  • I always remember the Friday she left met.
  • The January of 2015 was very cold

We use the seasons of the year (spring, summer, autumn, winter) with or without the definite article.

  • in summer
  • in the summer

The American English word fall is always used with the definite article the.


Sometimes we use the article and sometimes we do not. It often depends on the context. Look at the following example:

  1. My husband is in prison.
  2. My husband is in the prison.

In the first sentence we do not use the definite article, in the second we do. The is in the prison for its primary purpose, so we do not use the article.

In the second the husband is in the prison for a different reason, maybe he works there or is visiting. That’s why we use the definite article the in the second sentence.