Sophie has taken Oliver on a special trip for his birthday.

We use the, the definite article, before a singular or plural noun. We use the to show people that they know (or they will soon know) what we are talking about.

Can you explain with examples?

Of course. The definite article, the, can refer backwards in a conversation or text to something already mentioned.

… my sister there hid a little parcel in my suitcase, so when I was unpacking the case I had a really cool surprise ...

It can also refer forwards to something which is going to be mentioned or explained.

Could you bring me the knife which you gave me?
The friend of hers who's looking after us ...

Does the always refer backwards or forwards?

No, it can also refer to shared knowledge or general knowledge. Both the listener and the speaker (or the writer and the reader) know what is being referred to.

But I'll try to connect from the hotel every evening.
I think Mum is hoping to see George Clooney at the bus stop.

OK, I understand those rules, but I’ve seen lists of different uses of the.

All right, I can give more specific examples, but they fit into the three areas I’ve given you. We use the when there is only one of something (in the world, the country, your town, the house, etc.), and we know what it is.

And is the internet connection good?
They're like ... like the poster you've got in your room, Daisy.

We use the with superlatives – again, we are talking about one thing.

The chocolate here is the best in the world.

With some adjectives which refer to one thing –  for example first, last, next –  we also use the.

… this is the third day ...

When referring forwards, we often use a relative clause.

That’s the friend who is looking after us.

Isn’t the used with musical instruments, like 'I play the guitar'?

Yes, we sometimes use the in fixed expressions for musical instruments, entertainment and transport.

He plays the piano brilliantly. 
They’re going to the opera tonight. (also: the cinema, the football, the shops, etc.)
We took a taxi to the airport. (also: the bus stop, the station, etc.)

So even if there are three cinemas in my town, I would still say 'I went to the cinema last night'?

Yes, you would. We also sometimes use the to talk about groups of people or types of animals or things in general.

The unemployed are asking for more help from the government. (also: the poor, the old, the homeless, the deaf, etc.)
The wolf is the largest member of the dog family. (formal)
The Swiss watch is an amazing piece of engineering.

And we can use the with nationalities, like 'The Swiss make great chocolate'?

Yes, that’s right. You're good at this!    

What about talking about things in general? Can I say 'The life is very expensive' or 'I love the sport'?

No, we don’t use the definite article to generalise about abstract things. You’d say: 'Life is very expensive' and 'I love sport'. If we’re generalising about things we usually use the plural form (for countable nouns) or singular (uncountable nouns).

She’s frightened of spiders. (= spiders in general)
Lasagne is delicious! (= lasagne in general)
Thanks for dinner. The lasagne was incredible! (= one particular lasagne)

But you used 'the wolf' earlier to talk about wolves in general.

Yes, but that was more formal language, for example what you would read in an encyclopaedia. We usually use no article to generalise.

What about geography words? Words for rivers and seas and things?

Ah, you mean proper nouns or names of things. Here are some categories where we use the, with examples:
Rivers: the Thames
Mountain ranges: the Alps
Oceans and seas: the Pacific / the Red Sea
Deserts: the Sahara
Islands (groups): the Bahamas
Countries if + political term / plural: the UK / the USA / the United Arab Emirates
Political institutions: the Government / the Monarchy
Newspapers (usually part of the title): The Times / The Guardian
Cinemas / theatres / hotels: the Odeon / the Holiday Inn

So we don't use the before lakes, forests, cities or towns?

No, not usually. And not usually before streets in towns.

Well, there’s more to the definite article than meets the eye!

Mm, that reminds me, more than meets the eye – there are a lot of idioms with the too. For another time!



Have you ever visited a different country? What did you see? What differences did you notice between there and home?


RehinaParker's picture
RehinaParker 28 July, 2013 - 19:09

I have traveled in Italia...
Italia have so much diferent things from Albania people are more is so delicious too mmmmm.....I like to stay here forever. ;)

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chandradharita's picture
chandradharita 27 July, 2013 - 17:55

I traveled around Europe on June 28 - July 8 and visited Switzerland and Italy also. Switzerland is so incredible! I also enjoy fed myself with Italian foods, yummm :9

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skatingsweetsunny's picture
skatingsweetsunny 27 July, 2013 - 15:07

yes, i do have visited different country.i saw many different things there was a lot of difference between that country and my home.

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prezy's picture
prezy 25 July, 2013 - 17:27

Hi. I have visited München Germany. That city is very historical place ı have ever seen :)

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Natalija's picture
Natalija 20 July, 2013 - 12:52

I visited India this spring. And yes, it is do different compared to Serbia, my homeland, and compared to all other countries in the world I think. India is, as you may know, a country of colours-red, pink, blue, yellow, green etc. I felt a positive atmosphere all around, and India has a beautiful scenery. I was in one little town, quiet, but with lovely nature, with waterfalls and interesting flowers. I wanted to go to New Delhi too, but we didn't menage to go there, but never mind. I think I couldn't survive in such a big city.
People were very kind, really, and they really care about guests. They first offer you water when you visit them, and they don't leave you to go home without having a meal. They are so hospitable. But I must say that India is a very poor country, There are some places where people have no water, no electricity, no food and kids don't have conditions to go to school. They have to start to work at early ages, and it is really sad. I talked with one old Indian lady and she told me how her children and grandchildren are so poor and she feels bad because of their way of living, but she got used to it. They believe in destiny, and that everything is already determined. I don't share their opinion about destiny, but I like Indian people. They are very charming and funny.
Some people still live in communities called caste and it is so strict. For example, if you belong to poor class, you cannot get married to someone who is rich because you don't belong to the same caste. I think it is very sad, because love shouldn't know for any obstacles. I mean, technically, it is possible to get married, but in practice, there are no chances, due to rigorous society. For example, poor people have no rights compared to rich ones. I think it is slowly changing, but they need more time. And parents are still the ones who choice a wife or a husband for their kids, at least in most of cases. And they believe in horoscope too, and choose a partner according to that.
But putting caste aside, I find India a terrific country, with so many beauties and fortunes. Although there are some people without any life conditions, there are some very, very rich, who live in such luxury and abundance. India is famous for diamonds, and I like their jewelry, it is so classy and sophisticated. I live women clothes in India. It is called sari and women wear it in all cheerful colours. I like Indian dance too, and it is so funny and beautiful. When I was in India, I learnt to dance Indian dance, some Indian girls showed me and I always dance it when I have time. Their music is so cheerful, and they are full of life.
Food is very different compared to food I got used to, and I am not a fan of Indian cuisine, but I must say it is very attractive and interesting, The only thing I have in common with Indian food is that I am a vegetarian too and I don't eat meat. A cow is a sacred animal in India and everyone who kill or harm a cow in any way gets a serious punishment.

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readingskills's picture
readingskills 25 February, 2014 - 13:38

Natalija, you are very interesting, tell about yourself mean your personality , hometown etc , and lastly your english is very good.................can you help me to improve my english........?

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peter's picture
peter 15 October, 2013 - 03:47

dear natalija
also visit pakistan.pakistan is also very beatuiful country.peoples are very kind hearted.

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alisia_ledia's picture
alisia_ledia 21 August, 2013 - 14:39

awwww you have visited INDIA .... I just love that place.... Hope that I will go there in my futuree ^_^

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Tricia's picture
Tricia 18 July, 2013 - 14:44

Yes,I have!
I visited Hawaii last summer.
And then I went to the beach!!!!
The seneary was so beautiful,it was a lot of fun!!!

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