The Definite Article

The only definite article in the English language is the. The articlethe’ is a special modifier used before singular and plural nouns when the noun is specific or particular. The signals that the noun is definite, i.e., that it refers to a particular member of a group.

One of the most common uses of the definite article ‘the’ is to refer to something that has already been mentioned earlier in the text.

The definite article ‘the’ should also be used with:

  1. A singular noun representing a whole class, e.g.,
    The computer is a useful machine.
    **Important** The article ‘the’ is never used before the nouns man and woman when they represent the whole class, e.g., Man is mortal. NOT: The man is mortal.
  2. The nouns modified by ranking or ordering expressions, e.g.,
    The first, the second, the third, the next, the last, the previous, the following 
  3. The superlatives, e.g.,
    The best, the biggest, the most important, the least interesting 
  4. The names of journals and newspapers, e.g.,
    The New Scientist, the Times, the Modern Language Journal
  5. Time periods, e.g.,
    The 5th of September, the nineteenth century, the 1970s
  6. Specific unique objects, e.g.;
    The world, the sun, the sky, the North Pole, the Internet, the government  
  7. Adjectives that refer to all people described by it, e.g.,
    The brave, the dead, the old, the rich, the poor, the young
  8. The adjectives ending in –ish,-sh, -ch, -ese that describe a nationality, unless they end in -an, e.g.,
    The Spanish, the Welsh, the French, the Chinese, BUT not: the Canadians
  9. The institutions, bodies, and organisations, e.g.,
    The United Nations, the World Health Organisation
  10. Some illnesses, e.g., The measles, the flu, the mumps, the bubonic plague
    ** Important** Generally, articles are not used with the names of illnesses or diseases.

There are specific rules for using the definite article ‘the’ with certain geographical nouns:

  1. Geographical areas, e.g.,
    The East, the South, the Midwest  
  2. Names of countries which are collective, plural, modified by an adjective or an of-construction, or contain the words States, Kingdom, Republic or Union, e.g.,
    The Netherlands, the United Kingdom (UK), the United States of America (USA)
  3. Points on the globe, e.g.,
    The Equator, the North Pole, the South Pole
  4. Mountain ranges, e.g.,
    The Andes, the Himalayas, the Rocky Mountains  
  5. Rivers, seas and oceans, e.g.,
    The Mississippi River, the Black Sea, the Atlantic Ocean 
  6. Groups of lakes, e.g.,
    The Great Lakes
  7. Deserts and peninsulas, e.g.,
    The Sahara (Desert), the Kalahari Desert, the Arabian Peninsula
  8. Island chains, e.g.,
    The Pacific Islands, the Hawaiian Islands  

No definite article ‘the’ should be used with the following:

  1. Names of languages, e.g.,
    Chinese, English, Spanish, Russian
  2. Names of academic subjects, e.g.,
    Mathematics, biology, history, computer science
  3. Names of sports, e.g.,
    Volleyball, hockey, baseball

No definite article ‘the’ should also be used with the following geographical names:

  1. Continents, e.g.,
    Asia, Africa, North America
  2. Cities and towns, e.g.,
    London, Tashkent, Las Vegas 
  3. States, e.g.,
    California, Nevada, Washington
  4. Singular lakes, e.g.,
    Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, Lake Windermere
  5. Mounts, e.g.,
    Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro  
  6. Streets, e.g.,
    High Street, Church Street  


For more information on the use of the definite article the, please refer to the following sources: