The word THE, and when to use it.


When should we use the word THE, and when not?

In a sentence, when we mention something / somebody (a noun) for the first time, we normally use an indefinite article – A or AN. This is because until now, it is an unknown entity (person or thing).
For example:

  • My friend has A red car.
  • There is AN old man at the door.

When we talk about this same something / somebody the next time, we tend to use the definite article because now we know exactly what / whom we are talking about.
For example:

  • THE big red car is a Ford Granada.
  • THE old man at the door wants to come in.

But there are times when we don’t need to use either article. Read the following:

  1. When we talk about things in general, we don’t need to use the word THE.
    • I like cheese, all kinds of cheese; (not ‘the cheese’.)
    • My friend likes books with pictures in them.
    • Boys like girls with long hair.
    • Dogs and cats make nice pets.
    • Apples are very tasty, don’t you think?
  2. For names and proper nouns, (generally) we don’t use the word THE.
    • We are going on holiday at Easter; (not ‘the Easter’.)
    • I have lived in Spain for many years.
    • He goes to school on Mondays.
    • Mount Everest is over 8,848 metres high.
    • I speak English.
  3. There are other times when we don’t use the word THE, but the most important are:
    • uncountable nouns (bread, water, coffee, sugar, etc.)
    • plural countable nouns (children, exams, dogs, cats, etc.)
    • weekdays and months (Monday, Tuesday, December, March etc.)
    • singular names of places, (India, London, Australia, Canada, etc.)
    • languages and nationalities (English, French, Japanese, German, etc.)
    • sports (football, tennis, golf, gymnastics, etc.)

However, we DO use the word THE, when a name / proper noun is plural:

  • the United States
  • the Swiss Alps
  • the Canary Islands

NOTE: Both of the following sentences are correct:

  1. He booked the hotel in advance and the accommodation was good.
  2. Good hotel accommodation is often difficult to find.
  • Sentence Nº1 – says THE accommodation, because it refers to the ‘booked’ accommodation.
  • Sentence Nº2 – doesn’t use an article because it refers to accommodation in general.


Complementary Content:

British Council. Try this worksheet  Use of articles (in pdf format)